The Press of Atlantic City editorial board tells people to “relax” about PARCC. Really?

This morning, the editorial board at the Press of Atlantic City published a piece that compares widespread, bipartisan, and surging resistance to the Common Core-aligned PARCC exams to other “anxiety attacks” to which Americans are evidently prone. Their conclusion: “Relax, folks.

How shortsighted, condescending, dismissive, and ignorant.

My first question, obviously, is this: what authority does the editorial board at the Press of Atlantic City have to comment on the test-refusal movement that’s sweeping New Jersey? Are there any education experts on the board? Any parents of public school children? And how carefully have the board members researched, tracked, and evaluated the very real and very alarming concerns that are driving the test-refusal movement?

As I am not a regular reader of the Press of Atlantic City, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I am, however, shocked at the arrogance it takes for an editorial board to proclaim that four legislative bills that have bipartisan support–and that have generated extraordinary public participation in the legislative process–are “unnecessary.” I’m shocked at the arrogance it takes for an editorial board to call what most would label a public-education crisis as “hoo-ha.” And perhaps most importantly, I’m shocked at the arrogance and ignorance it takes for an editorial board to suggest that people “relax” and “withhold judgment and give the test a try.”

Actually, New Jersey parents, educators, and taxpayers have “give[n] the test a try.” Take the PARCC events are being conducted all over the state, and at such events, glaring problems with both the test and the technology it requires have been exposed. People with PhDs have attempted the PARCC and decried its content and construction and have expressed doubt about whether they themselves would earn a passing scores. Literacy experts like Russ Walsh have determined that the tests are designed to fail students because the reading levels of test passages are inappropriate for children in many grades. Teachers have been in-serviced on the PARCC tests and instructed by their superiors–who feel virtually threatened by the NJDOE–to directly teach to the PARCC tests. And just this week, schools that began administering the PARCC tests early ran into “glitches” that forced them to cancel testing altogether for the day.

(I wonder if members of the Press of Atlantic City editorial board have attended any Take the PARCC events–or even tried, independently, the practice tests that are available online. If so, I’d be interested to hear their reactions–and see their scores.)

We’ve also seen, firsthand, the ways in which the PARCC tests have forced a narrowing of the curriculum, promoted cuts in academic and extracurricular programs, impeded children’s natural love of learning, and required districts to spend hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to comply with the NJDOE’s unfunded mandates.  

And let’s not forget to mention the problems with Pearson, the British for-profit corporation that produces and scores the tests (actually, people who respond to Craigslist solicitations score the tests for $11/hour) and has a decades-long history of test-construction and scoring errors and millions in payouts in legal settlements.

Has the Press of Atlantic City editorial board considered any of this–or that more than a dozen states that initially signed up for PARCC dropped it before they could even administer the tests?

The board the goes on to blame “special interest groups” like the Tea Party and the NJEA for the widespread test resistance that’s happening in New Jersey, but in what is perhaps the most offensive paragraph in the piece, the board concludes this:

And the parents who say the test is making their children anxious are also overstating their case, in our opinion. Schools have been giving standardized tests — and students have been anxious about them — for decades. And if truth be told, parents and teachers have a lot to do with inducing that anxiety.


Yes, it’s true that standardized tests have been around for decades; adults who went through public schools before the NCLB testing craze began likely remember the low-stakes CAT or IOWA tests–or elective, higher-stakes tests like the SATs. The punitive testing we’re experiencing under NCLB and RTtT, though, is nothing like anything we have ever seen, and the damage it’s doing is unprecedented.

Blaming that damage on parents and teachers is immeasurably reckless, irresponsible, and insulting.

But I suppose that only people who have an actual understanding of the educational process, the complexity of child development, and the implications of the PARCC assessment–and not people who sit in behind news desks and blindly direct those who are wholeheartedly invested in and concerned for our children, teachers, and public schools to “relax”–would understand why.





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Free PARCC test prep delivered to your phone from your friendly NJPTA!

Yes, for real.

The PTA has been under a great deal of scrutiny lately, mostly because of the organization’s Gates-funded support for a host of education reforms that are categorically bad for kids, teachers, and public education.

In January, I wrote about the National PTA’s horrific decision to feature Steve Perry in its monthly publication, and more recently, the New Jersey PTA has been criticized by parents and teachers–you know, the people the organization says it represents–who are angry about all the Common Core and PARCC cheerleading the organization has been doing. (I’ll qualify this post by saying, again, that I love and appreciate my local PTA–because it directly benefits our school community. Credit for this success at the local level goes directly to our local PTA parents and the positive relationships they maintain with our town’s teachers and students.)

In addition to stumping for CCSS/PARCC on their Facebook page, NJPTA officers have been attempting to maintain a covert yet public presence at events where PARCC is discussed. Last month, Darcie Cimarusti reported that a “PTA plant” was the sole PARCC supporter in a group of over 60 parents and teachers who testified in front of the Study Commission in Jackson. If you haven’t read Darcie’s post yet, you should read it now.

The NJPTA is also behind “We Raise NJ,” a coalition that’s made up of PARCC cheerleaders like the NJSBA, NJASA, NJPSA, and NJ Chamber of Commerce. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We Raise NJ” is evidently planning a pro-PARCC “informational effort” in response to parent and teacher opposition to the tests, probably because incoming NJPTA president Rose Acerra’s believes that “there is a small group of parents making noise, but…there are more who are looking up to us to give them information.”

Let’s start with the obvious question: what authority does the NJPTA have to disseminate information about the PARCC exam? I’ve checked the organization’s list of Board Officers, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who has experience as an educator or other credentials that foster an understanding of curriculum, instruction, and/or assessment.

But who cares! Because in its quest to give out “information” about PARCC, the NJPTA is willing to text people weekly test-prep tips in advance of the assessments. Here’s what they posted on their Facebook page last night:


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That’s right, people: PARCC prep should be on your daily to-do list: right up there with feeding your children and dog and respecting the environment. (Does the absence of a check-mark next to “Get ready for PARCC” suggest that the NJPTA believes parents have been negligent in this area of family life? Does the highlighting suggest that PARCC prep is more important than the chores listed above it?!)

None of my regular readers will be shocked to learn that I *immediately* signed up to get my test-prep tips, and although I’m not in the classroom now because today’s my first official day of maternity leave, I’m looking forward to sharing PARCC test-taking tips with my newborn once he arrives so I can make sure he’s College and Career Ready.  (To be clear–the NJPTA texts will be test-prep tips, even though some members of “We Raise NJ” have tried to claim that teachers can’t teach to the PARCC test. If the NJPTA were interested in promoting critical thinking, it would ask parents to text “CRITICAL THINKING” instead of “PREP” to the number listed in the picture above.)

In order to get my first “tip,” I had to send the NJPTA my name and email address. I’m not sure why or what they’ll do with it, but I’m assuming my information has been added to some sort of “friends-of-PARCC” database. (#winning!) Here’s what popped up once I was completely enrolled:


A tip about using highlighters to “dissect” nonfiction passages!! Super useful.

But I wonder if the NJPTA knows that students often work with the same text for a long sequence of questions that appear on many different screens–and that any highlighting students do on any given screen is lost when they move on to the next question.

I wonder if the NJPTA understands that highlighters aren’t very effective tools for “dissecting” passages, which is why many teachers encourage annotations rather than highlighting.

And, not to split hairs, I wonder if the NJPTA has read the CCSS ELA standards for Grade 3, which require students to “ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.” (The person who composed “Tip #1” failed to recognize “child” as a singular antecedent and “them” as a plural pronoun. Whoops!)

Although I’m a *little* concerned that this NJPTA text-party is more of an effort to promote a political agenda than it is to help students succeed academically, I do encourage all parents who care about their children’s College and Career Readiness to sign up for the NJPTA’s PARCC tips. (It’ll be fun! “Hey, kids: I just got a text from the PTA! Drop your toys, find some nonfiction, and grab a highlighter!”)

And don’t worry: if you don’t like the test-prep tips the NJPTA has to offer, you can “text STOP to opt-out” of the updates. (I know!)

Or, you could consider sending an entirely different message to the organization:





P.S. Don’t forget to feed your children and the dog! Thanks.


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Guest Post: NJ Legislators Need to Stand up for Our Children–By Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. and Julia Sass Rubin, Ph.D.

The first administration of the experimental new PARCC high-stakes standardized tests is only weeks away and parents are increasingly concerned. Hundreds of families have notified their school districts that their children will not be taking the PARCC tests.

Approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey school districts have responded by assuring parents who refuse the test that their children will be provided with an alternative location, or at least the ability to read in class, while their classmates take the test.

Other districts, however, have taken a much more punitive approach, threatening to force children as young as eight to remain in the testing room with no other activities except sitting and staring for the two-week duration of the test. Some districts have even threatened students whose parents refuse the test with disciplinary actions.

In response, parents are asking the New Jersey legislature to intervene and pass A4165/S2767. This legislation requires all districts and charter schools to provide consistent, humane treatment for children whose parents refuse standardized tests.

As growing numbers of legislators indicate their support for A4165/S2767, officials within the New Jersey Department of Education have apparently initiated a campaign to block its passage by claiming that the proposed legislation would cost districts precious dollars. Specifically, the NJDOE is arguing that the US Department of Education would use powers it has under the No Child Left Behind law to cut Title I funding for any schools that fall below 95 percent student participation levels on the PARCC.

Keep in the mind that the proposed legislation does not direct parents to have their children opt-out or refuse the state mandated tests. The proposed legislation simply asks for a consistent statewide policy of humane treatment for children whose parents choose to refuse the testing. As more school administrators decide to make students needlessly “sit and stare” for two weeks of testing, plus up to two additional weeks of make-up testing, it is imperative that the legislature act to protect children from such treatment.

So will the US Department of Education take your school’s Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law?

The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.

1. There is no federal or state law that requires financial penalties to schools’ Title I funds if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. The intent of that law was to prevent schools from hiding subgroups of students from the accountability structure and was not aimed at preventing parents from refusing to have their children tested.

However, since 2012, NJ has had a waiver to NCLB that replaces those sanctions with a new accountability system.

Under the waiver, only schools designated “priority” or “focus” schools face direct intervention for missing state targets. New Jersey’s 250 priority and focus schools can have up to 30 percent of their federal Title I funds re-directed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for specific “interventions,” but even these funds are supposed to be used for school improvement, not taken away. And the NJDOE already has the ability to redirect a part of the Title I allocations received by priority and focus schools.

2. No federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

And missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level is not unusual in New Jersey.

According to NJDOE data, last spring, nine schools in seven New Jersey districts had overall schoolwide NJ ASK participation rates below 95 percent; 175 schools in 104 districts had participation rates below 95 percent for at least one of the student subgroups (e.g., special needs, Limited English Proficient, economically disadvantaged, etc.,).[i]

None of those schools experienced any federal financial repercussions to Title I funds.  In fact, no school has ever lost Title I funds due to punishment by the federal government for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

3. Other states have laws that protect parents’ right to opt their children out or refuse high-stakes standardized testing and no federal financial penalties of any sort have been imposed on schools in those states as a result of these laws.

For example, in Wisconsin “Upon the request of a pupil’s parent or guardian, the school board shall excuse the pupil from taking an examination administered under sub. (1m).”[ii]

In California, a “parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided pursuant to Ed Code Section 60640.”[iii]

4. The US Congress is rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal legislation that mandates annual standardized testing. A reauthorized ESEA may completely eliminate the federal interventions that are in the current version of ESEA and is likely to give individual states much more decision-making authority when it comes to accountability and testing mandates.

So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate. The moral imperative for the NJDOE, the NJ Legislature and for individual school districts should be to act in the best interests of New Jersey children, and that means treating students humanely if their parents choose to participate in the democratic tradition of dissent.

Christopher Tienken is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University. 

Julia Sass Rubin is an Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and one of the founding members of the all-volunteer pro-public education group Save Our Schools NJ.



[iii] Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75.



 95% participation


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“If he refuses PARCC…we’ll all refuse PARCC…it’ll be anarchy…”

This morning, Save Our Schools New Jersey reported that 74 districts across the state have agreed to accommodate PARCC refusals with alternate settings for non-testing students.

Yes, you read that correctly: 74. That number will likely be higher by tomorrow.

Yet many districts, taking cues from an October NJDOE memo that references irrelevant policies and indirectly suggests that test-refusers should be disciplined, are still insisting that all New Jersey public school children *SHALL* take the PARCC.

And earlier this week, a group of attorneys–reiterating that there is no “opt out” provision in New Jersey–stepped the scare-factor up a notch and issued the following statement (emphasis mine):

As previously stated, students are not permitted to opt-out of the PARCC assessment or any state mandated assessment in New Jersey. Our office recommends reviewing your absentee and disciplinary policies in light of the Commissioner’s suggestion. We also recommend advising parents of the importance of testing and have available a sample letter you are free to use. You should be prepared to implement the District’s policies and impose discipline on students who attempt to defiantly refuse to sit for the PARCC assessment.

Great idea! Impose discipline! Sit for the test or else! Threatening children–especially in an educational setting–is always effective!


Obviously not. And you know what? I don’t believe that there are any educators–or even people who pretend to be educators–who think that threatening children is appropriate or effective. So what’s this all about?

One word: control. Fear of losing control. Fear of opening the door for civil disobedience. Fear of refusal contagion.

Fear that if one parent successfully refuses the PARCC, everyone will refuse the PARCC…and Common Core and its mandatory testing component will collapse…

…and then it’ll be ANARCHY!

(Either that or local control of public education will be restored–and the people who actually work with and know what’s best for children will be allowed to do their jobs the right way.)

That’s what this rah-rah PARCC rhetoric and these sit-and-stare threats are really all about.


“That’s the last time, Bender. That’s the last time you ever make me look bad in front of those kids, you hear me?”


What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is that he gives good kids bad ideas. The last thing I need at this point in my career is 1500 Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls. He jeopardizes my ability to effectively govern this student body.

“What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is that he gives good kids bad ideas. The last thing I need at this point in my career is 1500 Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls. He jeopardizes my ability to effectively govern this student body.”



People who actually acknowledge that the Principal Vernon and Principal Rooney methods of intimidation aren’t generally effective:

“From a practical standpoint, every district is going to have to have a procedure in place when a kid refuses to participate, because you can’t handcuff a kid to the computer to take the test.“–Philip Nicastro, Vice President of Strauss Esmay Associates (the group that issued procedural guidance that included alternative setting options to approximately 475 districts across the state)


“Nobody can force your child to put their hands on a keyboard.” —Mark Biedron, president of the NJ State Board of Education

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And the fear-mongering NJDOE spake these words, saying:

We are the Department of Education, who have brought thee out of the Land of Failure and Ignorance, and toward the House of College and Career Readiness.

Thou shalt have no other Educational Authorities before us.

Thou shalt not read nor attempt to interpret any statements the Commissioner of Education has made to about district autonomy, read or attempt to interpret NJ-specific PARCC policy manuals, regard the definition of a “Non-Testing Student” provided by Stephanie the PARCC Customer Service Representative, read Strauss Esmay procedural guidelines, form or join a grassroots advocacy groups that inform thee of ways and reasons to “opt out” of mandatory testing, or pay attention to any Boards of Education or Superintendents that have issued “humane” PARCC “refusal” guidelines. Thou shalt not worship any of these groups, nor serve as volunteers or organizers for them, nor share their Facebook posts, Internet links, or Test Refusal Templates.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Department of Education, its Commissioner, PARCC, Pearson, the NJSBA, the NJPTA, the NJCC, or the NJPSA in vain, either in private, in writing, on Facebook, on Twitter, on NJ 101.5, or in sessions of public testimony, for we will not hold him guiltless that commits such acts in any forum.

Thou shalt remember the Testing Day, to keep it holy during Time on Task. For nearly ten hours shalt thou labor, and when thou hast finished, thou may rest to restore thy strength for any additional testing We deem is necessary to determine thy College and Career Readiness.

Thou shalt ignore thy father and mother, should thy father and mother attempt to refuse testing for thee, for thy father and mother are as ignorant as thou art with regard to PARCC testing. Otherwise, thy days will be long and filled with Disciplinary Consequences.

Thou shalt not refuse to test, or else thou shalt Sit and Stare.

Thou shalt not pollute the testing environment by fidgeting, drawing on paper or school furniture or other property, coughing loudly, flaunting thy refusal in the face of thy test-taking peers, possessing forbidden electronic devices or works of fiction, requesting to use the lavatory, flushing toilets, uttering inappropriate remarks under thy breath, making squeaking noises by shifting in thy chair, restoring factory settings to or installing viruses on thy Chromebook, or engaging in other forms of “misconduct” as determined by Us.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighboring district’s humane PARCC test refusal policy, nor any district’s BOE members or administrators who speak out against Sit and Stare, nor any district’s expensive technology, bandwidth, or district-isssued headphones, nor any “alternative placement locations” for non-testing students.


Thou shalt obey these moral imperatives and engage in appropriate testing behavior, or else thy school will be punished and unfunded, thou wilt be deemed Unready for College and Career, and thy life will be ruined and thy teacher will be fired.

So Sayeth the New Jersey Department of Education.



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New Jersey voters on standardized testing: ENOUGH.

Last month, NJEA and the D.C. based Mellman Group, Inc. conducted a New Jersey statewide survey of 1,000 likely voters, and the results were overwhelmingly clear: when it comes to issues facing today’s public school children, teachers and parents know best. 

The NJDOE, legislators, and other non-educators? Not so much.

While virtually every polling question used in the survey is worth discussing (you can see the complete results of the poll here, here, and here, and you can read an op-ed from NJEA’s Wendell Steinhauer and Save Our Schools NJ’s Susan Cauldwell here), I’ll limit myself to a few:

First and foremost, voters confirmed a long-acknowledged phenomenon that’s not limited to New Jersey: that people are generally very happy with their public schools and their public school teachers.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.38.55 PM

Despite their confidence in New Jersey’s schools and teachers, though, voters are concerned about the direction in which public education in New Jersey is heading—because of mandates being imposed by the state and federal governments—and an overwhelming percentage of both parents and voters believe that there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in teaching public school children.

The concerns? Standardized testing “causes stress for students”; “takes time and money from other educational priorities”; forces teachers to “teach to the test”; does not “provide a good measure of each individual student”; and is “given too much weight when used to make decisions on teachers, schools, and students.”

(This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the statewide and nationwide debates about PARCC testing, but somehow, many people–including NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe–still believe that parents and educators with concerns about the assessments represent a very small percentage of the population.)

According to the survey and in response to the testing craze, a majority of parents and voters oppose making PARCC tests a graduation requirement; want to “limit the number of hours spent on standardized testing”; want to “stop giving standardized tests to students below the 3rd grade”; want to “give parents the right of refusal [opt-out] so that their kids don’t have to take standardized tests”; and want testing companies to disclose both the amount of profit they make from taxpayer money spent on standardized tests and the political contributions they make with such profits. In short, they favor the creation of a testing Bill of Rights (see slide at the bottom of this post) that addresses these concerns.

Why? The poll results speak for themselves:

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And not surprisingly, parents and voters ranked teachers and parents the most trustworthy people on the issue of standardized testing. Only 12% of parents and 15% of voters believe that the New Jersey Department of Education has credibility with regard to this issue, and only 3% of parents and 4% of voters believe that state legislators are trustworthy when it comes to issues surrounding high-stakes testing.

(It’s worth noting here that when the Delran Education Association hosted a “Take the PARCC” event for nearly 500 parents, educators, and community members, not one legislator attended even though more than a dozen received personal invitations. Commissioner Hespe got a personal invitation, too–but he didn’t show up either.)

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This slide alone is worth sharing widely. The message is clear!


It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the consensus among likely voters about standardized testing could be more overwhelming. Yet despite statewide and nationwide opposition to testing and other reforms, many powers that be refuse to deviate from their “we-know-better-than-you-what’s-best-for-kids” course.

And while the NJDOE, the NJPTA, the NJSBA, the NJPSA, and legislators all over the state continue to cheerlead for high-stakes standardized tests and dismiss the glaring concerns of people who actually know what’s good for children, they reinforce the concern that this level of bureaucratic interference in public education is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

And parents, educators, and voters say ENOUGH.

Enough of empty, unfounded, and inflammatory statements like George Bush’s ridiculous claim that “rarely is the question asked: ‘is our children learning?” Teachers assess their kids every single day.

Enough of non-educators cheapening and oversimplifying the learning process by claiming that standardized testing is simply a necessary and innocuous way to measure students’ academic progress.

Enough with the empty claims that unproven standardized tests produced and scored by error-plagued, corrupt, for-profit corporations will somehow give us valuable information about the children we see and interact with every day. In my 14 years of teaching, a standardized test has NEVER told me something about a child that I didn’t know within the first month of school. Ever.

Enough of federal and state policy constructed solely around the quest to hunt and root out all the nameless, faceless “bad teachers” that supposedly plague our schools despite overwhelming evidence which shows the opposite.

Enough with inhumane policies that attempt to force even our smallest children to take tests that their parents and educators know are worthless.

Enough with education policy that’s driven by a fundamental belief that teachers are, as a profession, “bad,”  that students and schools, in general, are “failing,” and that incessant testing is the “solution” to the problems facing public education.

And enough with legislators and other education officials who refuse to engage in discussions about standardized testing and other reforms with parents or educators.


NJ 101.5’s Eric Scott on David Hespe’s refusal to engage in a public discussion about PARCC

All this in the state whose schools are consistently labeled–using multiple measures and not just standardized test scores—as the best in the nation.

All this in the state whose leaders have determine that sweeping, top-down, one-size-fits-all reforms are necessary for all public schools because teachers are ill-equipped to assess their own students–and despite glaring evidence that the poverty, violence, and inequality that plague many urban NJ districts correlate directly with the academic struggles of students in those regions.

And all this in the state that’s led by a governor who insists that high-stakes standardized tests, no-excuses discipline policies, longer school days and years, the Common Core, and PARCC are absolutely necessary for all of our public school kids—yet he pays tens of thousands of dollars per year to send his children to a school that operates according the exact opposite philosophies.

So here are some ideas for New Jersey’s education policymakers and policy-promoters:

If your only experience with K-12 education is your own as a student, please acknowledge that you cannot possibly speak about the complexity of a child’s education or the educational climate in today’s public schools with any kind of authority.

If you criticize children, parents, and teachers without having any idea of what goes on in public schools every day, either make a concerted effort to visit schools, talk to parents and students, and talk to teachers before you make dangerous generalizations–or just stay out of it.

If you promote or create education policies based solely on “data” that you’ve “unpacked” and numbers you’ve crunched from your seat behind a non school district-issued desk, have the respect to defer to the professionals who make a career out of educating children and the parents whose children suffer every day from your arrogant, ignorant, and ill-conceived policies.

If you hang your hat on reforms that sound good in theory but are fundamentally flawed in practice, please reevaluate your own understanding of K-12 education and the extent to which you’re entitled to speak as an authority about it.

If you have been elected to represent the people of New Jersey, you need to listen to what those people are saying about Common Core and PARCC–and respond accordingly. (Thank you to those legislators who are already doing so.)

If you fail to see the value in local control of education and in district and educator autonomy, please visit the communities your policies affect and speak with stakeholders there.

If you send your children to schools that are exempt from the reforms you impose on other people’s children, please ask yourself why you feel that your children don’t need to be assessed incessantly by flawed measures–but other people’s children do.

If you’re unwilling to have a discussion about educational reforms with the people those reforms affect every day, you should step down and make room for someone who is.

And if you’re still sure that PARCC is a great test that we should impose on all of New Jersey’s public school children every year, please take the test and publish your scores.  

Because as we speak, desperate parents who love their kids’ teachers and schools are discussing home-schooling and private-schooling options because the death-grip of an over-reliance on standardized testing in public schools is becoming virtually inescapable. Desperate children are learning to hate school instead of love it–because programs they enjoy and value have been cut in the name of test prep. Desperate teachers who have lost autonomy and whose professional judgment has been deemed worthless are fleeing the profession that’s become virtually unrecognizable to them. Desperate school leaders are doing everything they can—even when their directives go against what they know to be best for children–to ensure that test scores in their buildings go up so their schools aren’t turned over to private corporations. Desperate taxpayers are watching as hundreds of millions of dollars are diverted to testing corporations and data-mining companies because of unfunded mandates imposed by state and federal governments. And a new wave of teachers who have no basis for comparison and think that test prep is what teaching is all about are pouring into our schools—particularly in urban areas—and blindly accepting the scripted models that are being fed to them in the name of “accountability.”

But then again, maybe these really are end-goals of the educational policies promoted by many of the powers that be in New Jersey: “prove” failure and use it as justification to drive people from the public school system and into the hands of private corporations.



Call for a testing Bill of Rights--and encourage your legislators to do the same.

Call for a testing Bill of Rights–and encourage your legislators to do the same.

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PARCC requires a new and unprecedented kind of test prep

On January 14th, Star-Ledger guest columnist Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, published an opinion piece advising New Jerseyans to “Give NJ’s new PARCC tests a chance.

In her column, Wright offers a message that’s typical of Common Core/PARCC supporters: that PARCC tests will “more accurately gauge our students’ mastery” of the new standards and will “lead to higher levels of student achievement”– even though neither of these claims has been or can be substantiated.

But rather than focusing–again–on the glaring, numerous, and undeniable problems with PARCC tests (see here for the Delran Education Association’s position statement on high-stakes standardized tests, and see here for Save Our Schools New Jersey’s “The 12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC test,” and see here for Seton Hall professor Chris Tienken’s debunking of five PARCC claims), I’ll address another issue Wright brings up: that of “teaching to the test.”

Wright claims:

“Issues of accountability have also led to concerns that teachers will ‘teach to the test,’ narrowing what kids learn. Fortunately, this apprehension is unfounded because of the way PARCC works. No longer will a focus on ‘test-prep strategies’ such as ‘eliminate one answer you know is wrong and guess from the remaining possibilities’ work.”


First of all, it’s interesting that Wright is so quick to dismiss traditional test-taking strategies like answer elimination, especially given that such a practice actually requires students to think critically about the options presented and use the process of elimination to arrive at the best answer. Also, PARCC assessments still do include multiple-choice questions (although it is true that some require that students choose more than one answer per question), so I’m not sure why Wright feels discussions about answer-elimination will suddenly disappear.

But more importantly, how long does it take to explain such a strategy to children? Have any schools shaped curricula around practicing multiple-choice answer elimination in the past? I doubt it.

Wright is, in her blurb about test prep, correct about one thing: that answer-elimination strategies will not be the “focus” of teachers’ efforts to prepare their students for PARCC assessments.


Because PARCC assessments are as much a measure of a student’s technological readiness as they are of the skills they claim to assess.

Exhibit 1: Study Island/Edmentum 

Edmentum is a program designed to ensure that students “are ready for the next generation of assessments” and are able to “achieve standards mastery with actionable data.” In recent years, districts all over the country have purchased subscriptions to Edmentum programs like Study Island, and in some cases, teachers have been directed to assign Study Island practice to students either during class time or for homework.  From the Edmentum website (emphasis mine):

Edmentum’s PARCC Preparation Bundle, featuring Study Island and Edmentum Assessments, addresses the individualized test prep needs of your learners by offering choices for students working above, at, or below grade level to ensure that every student attains academic success.

Browse virtually any education-related discussion board or social media page and you’ll understand the extent to which public school students all over the country are being assigned–and graded on–“PARCC-like” or “Smarter Balanced-like” activities and assessments, and you’ll see testimonies from frustrated teachers who are required to assign such work despite the fact that they know that their time–and their students’ time–would be much better spent in a host of different ways.

Unfortunately, Edmentum is only a small indicator of the larger problem: that there’s lots of money to be made when lots of students score below proficient on Common Core-aligned assessments and require “remediation” in the form of–you guessed it–test prep.  (That many students don’t have access to technology at home is a completely separate issue, and such students will be at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers and will lose more instructional time to test-prep programs like Study Island. Don’t let anyone tell you that Common Core testing will close the “achievement gap,” because the opposite is true and this is one reason why.)

But we aren’t going to test-prep for PARCC, says Ms. Wright.

Exhibit 2: “PARCC Testing Tips”–and other similar preparatory measures


A parent recently posted this document, which was sent home with her elementary-level child, online (I’m not sure of its origins of the document or the exact grade-level it was meant for), and other parents immediately added that their own children had received similar instructions on “computer skills” and “keyboarding”–specifically so those students could prepare for the PARCC.

Is this not test-prep, Ms. Wright?

Have teachers not been directed to devote instructional time to getting students on laptops so they can learn to drag and drop, cut and paste, and use a trackpad?

Is this sort of test prep not less valuable than strategies that require students to think critically about multiple answers in order to eliminate incorrect options?

And does time spent on this sort of instruction–instead of on meaningful activities that foster critical thinking and a love of learning–not result in a “narrowing of what kids learn”?

Yes: our test prep is now focused on ensuring that students are comfortable (if that’s possible!) with the PARCC interface–and that they’re able to type quickly enough to respond to open-ended questions, manipulate a mouse, cut and paste, drag and drop, and stay calm when glitches come up.  (And glitches WILL happen; see this article, posted yesterday, which describes systems crashing, log-on problems, and program failures that plagued a New Mexico school’s attempts to administer the “controversial” PARCC test, or this article, which describes what happened when parents and community members tried to log on to practice PARCC tests at a Take the PARCC event.)

To be clear: I understand why teachers feel pressures to teach to the PARCC test, and I understand why administrators feel it necessary to direct teachers to do so–for a few reasons.

First, PARCC assessments are so different from other standardized tests that students must have a certain degree of exposure to the system’s interface in order to even be able to think about dealing with content. The PARCC system is not user-friendly (students must be able to deal with multiple tabs at once, they’re only able to see a very small portion of a text at one time, and often answers and texts cannot fit on the same screen–so students must scroll back and forth while working on one problem), and the issues it presents were overwhelming for me when I attempted the test for the first time last spring and were independent of the issues I had with the actual content and construction of the assessment. So yes–if students’ first experiences with the PARCC system comes when they sit down to take the actual assessment in March, many kids will be lost. (Also, remember that we’re already expecting high failure rates on PARCC tests.)

Secondly, and more largely, how can we expect educators to not push test-prep when the results from PARCC tests (and other Common Core-aligned tests) will be used to close schools, fire teachers, and standardize curricula?

Consider this: earlier in the week, NY governor Andrew Cuomo said that he wants standardized test scores to count for 50% of teachers’ evaluations because teacher evaluation systems are “baloney.

50%. Think about the implications of such a mandate. (And see Jersey Jazzman for more on Cuomo’s failures with regard to education.)

While the weight of test scores on teachers’ evaluations in New Jersey isn’t that high (yet), Race to the Top requires test scores to factor into teachers’ evaluations. Funding is tied to this mandate.

But again, this testing craze doesn’t promote teaching to a test. Right?

I wonder: if Ms. Wright were a classroom teacher with students who were scheduled to take the PARCC in a couple of months–and if her livelihood depended on her students’ test scores–would she think differently about the “test prep” she assures concerned citizens won’t happen with PARCC?


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Guest post: Michael Kaminski’s response to the 1/20 @NJSBA memo

Michael Kaminski is a high school history teacher with 23 years of teaching experience. He is also the president of the Delran Education Association.


I’ve read the January 20, 2015 release from the New Jersey School Boards Association, “Your Local School Board, Your Students and PARCC: Frequently Asked Questions” and quite frankly, it’s not worth the internet bandwidth that it takes up. I’m still trying to figure out why you’re speaking up now – on this issue – in support of PARCC and sit and stare, when your silence has been deafening on so many other important educational issues. Nevertheless, your FAQs require some more appropriate answers, so here they are.

Are school districts required to administer the PARCC assessment?

NJSBA says yes, and on that lone point we can agree. Unfortunately, no one in educational leadership seems to understand what the term “administer” means. Does it mean “manage the operation or use of,” “to provide or apply; to put something into effect,” or even “to give ritually?” Apparently, the NJSBA believes that the term means “to force children to take” and if they don’t take it the first time, “to give habitually and repeatedly until they finally submit and take the darn test” because that is precisely what the majority of school administrators across the state are intending to do come March and May: administer and then re-administer the PARCC for as long as it takes to achieve compliance.

Must students participate in the PARCC assessment?

NJSBA says yes. Interesting enough, they correctly assert that state regulations contain the following provision: “…all students at grade levels 3 through 12…shall take appropriate Statewide assessments as scheduled.” Interesting because the Supreme Court has weighed in on the use of the term “shall.” In Cairo & Fulton R.R. Co. v. Hecht, the US Supreme Court sated: “As against the government the word “shall” when used in statutes, is to be construed as “may” unless a contrary intention is manifest. In George Williams College v. Village of Williams Bay, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin stated that “shall” in a statute may be construed as “may” in order to avoid constitutional doubt. In Gow v. Consoliated Coppermines Corp, a Delaware court stated “If necessary to avoid unconstitutionality of a statute, “shall” will be deemed equivalent to “may.” I think this sufficiently makes the point – but let’s see if a “contrary intention is manifest.” Even Commissioner Hespe stated in his September 30 memo that “…these advanced students are not expected to take a PARCC End-of-course assessment in mathematics, but must still demonstrate competency in mathematics to receive a state-endorsed diploma.” So, the Commissioner has acknowledged that “shall” is “may” and not “must” – at least in this case. But how about in others? According to his October 8 memo, the Commissioner said that “The NJDOE is not requiring students to take any commercial test as a condition of graduation but will allow schools to determine graduation readiness in a number of different ways.” Doesn’t sound like “shall” means “must” to me… But let’s pursue one other avenue. From that same memo: “Is a student who does not pass a PARCC end-of-course assessment required to retake the assessment”? Hespe’s DOE says “No. A student is not required to retake an assessment or retake the course.” Huh? So you “shall” take this completely meaningless test that you’ll only be “required” to retake if you refuse to respond to the questions. But no one else will. It doesn’t sound like the NJ DOE meant “must” when they said “shall.”

Do statutes, regulations or court decisions permit students to opt out of the state testing program?

NJSBA says no. But that’s not the whole truth. While there is no provision for “opting out” in New Jersey, other states do have such provisions. Somehow, those states are able to violate the conditions of the federal NCLB Act (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and the 95% that the NJSBA refers to later in its document with impunity, but in New Jersey, they want us to believe that we cannot. So…we can’t opt out. Technically true. But WE COULD REFUSE.

What action should a school district take if a student refuses to participate in PARCC?

NJSBA cites Hespe’s memo that says that districts are “not required to provide an alternative educational program for students who do not participate in the statewide assessment.” So they are not required to…but they can. Here, the Commissioner clearly understands the concept that “shall” means “may” but not “must.” Districts absolutely can provide an alternative educational program. Just ask Bloomfield, Delran, Robbinsville, Milburn, Woodbridge, West Orange, Little Egg Harbor, Mahwah, Berlin Borough, Union Township, Waldwick, Washington Township, Swedesboro, Montville, and Princeton. Even the NJSBA admits that “districts have the discretion on how they will address situations” related to test refusal. Clearly. Thank you.

The NJSBA goes on to state emphatically that “the Spring 2015 PARCC Test Coordinator and Test Administrator Manuals provide guidance on what NJ school districts should do when a student refuses to take the state assessment.” No doubt they do. I completely agree with you. Pearson has stated that test refusals are “non-tested students” and the PARCC manual clearly states that non-tested students are prohibited from even entering the testing environment. So, on this issue, we agree. Students who refuse cannot enter the testing environment, meaning that they cannot be forced to “sit and stare.” Doing so would be a violation of testing security and would put school administrators at risk of losing their certification – since they are the ones who are insisting – on the behalf of the DOE – that students must “sit and stare.”

What is the impact on the school district if students do not participate in PARCC?

According to the NJSBA, the sky will fall. They cite the Commissioner’s October 30th memo and claim that districts must meet the 95% requirement. For some reason, both he and the NJSBA fail to mention that NJ has an NCLB waiver. School districts that do not receive federal Title I monies have NO OBLIGATION to meet the 95%. See’s piece on this. We are under NO obligation to meet those testing requirements. Even schools that receive Title I funds are not at risk of LOSING funding for failing to meet the magical “95%” – they would simply be told to re-direct a small percentage of their Title I funds for “remediation” purposes. So, let’s not get fooled by them holding funding over our heads, because honestly, even if this were true – if we’re only testing because we’re afraid of losing funding, what does that say about the testing itself? Threaten – Test – Punish. What a wonderful educational climate we’re living in.

But what about the Average Daily Attendance? Well, the NJSBA got it right. Schools could be adversely affected if their average daily attendance over a three-year period falls under 96%. All I can say to this is – perhaps the NJSBA and Commissioner Hespe and some of the more heavy-handed Superintendents in our state should not be suggesting that we keep our children home from school during testing days unless they want to risk losing funding as a result of their own advice. Better yet, maybe test refusals should consider keeping their children home during testing as leverage against Draconian “sit and stare measures.”  You want my child to sit and stare? My response will be to keep them home and then you might actually risk losing your precious testing dollars. Race to THAT top.

NJQSAC? Low participation rates “may” negatively affect your QSAC outcome. There are too many variables here to consider…and the NJSBA took a page out the Hespe playbook here. They were so intentionally vague you can’t even tell if there’s any shred of truth to this. Well played, NJSBA. I challenge you to offer proof that districts will lose funding for failure to meet PARCC participation levels specific to QSAC. As a matter of fact, I challenge you to offer proof that ANY DISTRICT ANYWHERE IN NEW JERSEY will lose funding under ANY of the conditions that you mention in this portion of the document. (Waiting patiently…)

What is the impact on students who do not participate in PARCC?

NJSBA wants us to believe that there’s some “valuable information about his or her academic progress and needs that will not be available.” Um…like what? What is PARCC going to provide that your child’s teacher cannot provide? What is PARCC going to provide that is any different or better than what Hespe’s last failed attempt at standardized testing (NJ ASK/HSPA) provided? And while I’m on that point – why should we believe that Hespe can suddenly get this testing thing right when he admitted during his presentation at the NJEA Convention that ASK and HSPA failed to provide us with the data we needed to really assess how we’re doing. So we tested for a decade based on his recommendation and now he returns to the big boy seat in the DOE to tell us all he was wrong all that time – but, seriously, this time he really knows that he’s gotten it right? Or, that PEARSON has gotten it right? Sorry. I just cant buy that.

Then, NJSBA adds a threat about “excessive absences.” You’re the one telling us we should be absent to avoid testing. Just you – and the Commissioner – and his cronies.

May a school board adopt an opt-out policy?

NSBA says “there is no explicit statutory or regulatory prohibition against such a policy.” Thank you. Good day.

But what about the “Code of Ethics for School Board Members?” I’m pretty sure that treating both tested students and non-tested students compassionately is in direct alignment with the Code of Ethics. Our schools are entrusted to care for our students – every single one of them – whenever they are in their care. It’s incomprehensible to me that this could somehow mean that school boards “can’t” or “shouldn’t” create opt-out/refusal provisions, but SHOULD enforce sit and stare policies. I challenge the NJSBA to explain to me how “sit and stare” jives with the Code of Ethics.

There’s no reason to discuss the remainder of the NJSBA document. But, I would make some recommendations to the NJSBA:

  • Start attending the DOE open public testimony sessions. There, you’ll come to the realization that NJ residents are NOT happy with the PARCC and are not pleased with the Commissioner’s response to test refusals.
  • Attend the PARCC Study Commission open public testimony sessions. There will be hundreds of citizens testifying about how bad the PARCC is – and about how they want the Commissioner and school boards across this state to come up with non-punitive, educationally sound responses for test refusals. It will be overwhelming. Trust me.
  • Listen to NJ 101.5. I can’t believe I’m suggesting anyone listen to this station which has been notorious for its bashing of public school teachers, but even they get it. This test is bad. Sit and stare is bad. Pearson is the devil.
  • Ask your members…your own local BOE presidents. Ask them what’s been happening in their own districts. They’ll tell you the same thing. People want answers. And they are not the answers you’re giving them. They’re not the answers in your January 20 document.

New Jerseyans want responsible, student-centered, educationally-appropriate activities for test refusers, and while that’s the most immediate concern connected to the upcoming PARCC administrations, New Jerseyans also want to have a say in what has been a completely one-sided conversation on testing. I believe that they, like me, are fed up with the over-testing of our children and they want it to stop.


*Adding: In response to a number of public posts–primarily from parents–criticizing the 1/20 memo, the NJSBA posted this response on its Facebook page:



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PARCC manual: students “refusing to test” must be “dismissed from the testing environment”

*This is an updated/corrected version of an earlier post, which was published in error before it was ready.

**You can download a complete copy of the 2015 PARCC Spring Test Coordinator Manual, which is nearly 150 pages, here.

***This post was originally published on January 21st, 2015. Please see notes at the bottom, which were added as more information–and responses to individual parents from the NJDOE–was reported.


As many people have recently discovered, the PARCC testing manual states that “non-testing students” and other “unauthorized visitors” are “prohibited from entering the testing environment.” And last week, PARCC Customer Support representatives confirmed that “non-testing students” include those whose parents have refused testing on their children’s behalf.

So according to PARCC, non-testers should not enter the testing room. At all.

Despite the directives set forth in the PARCC manual, though, some superintendents across New Jersey are still insisting that children whose parents have refused testing will not be placed in an alternate setting–and instead must “sit and stare” in the testing room with testing students.

This kind of policy is problematic for both testers and non-testers for obvious reasons, but it’s also problematic because the PARCC manual specifies that students “refusing to test” must be “dismissed from the testing environment.”

Here are the specifics:

1. Section 5.10 Develop a Test Administration Plan Logistics Plan (pages 29-30 of the manual):

“If applicable, establish school policy for dismissing students and/or allowing them to read a recreational book after completing units and communicate this information to students. Refer to Appendix C for your state’s policy.”

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2. Section 6.4.2 Dismissing Students for Misconduct (page 39 of the manual)

“The Test Administrator has the authority to dismiss any student for misconduct. If student misconduct warrants dismissal, collect the student’s test materials. The student will then be dismissed from the testing environment.

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3. Appendix C is the “State Policy Addendum,” and pages 102-105 detail New Jersey-specific policy. In reference to sections 5.10 and 6.4:

“STC calls LEA Test Coordinator immediately to report student misconduct (i.e. refusing to test, disruptive behavior, unauthorized electronics, cheating.) STC completes testing irregularity/security breach form documenting situation and provides form to LEA Test Coordinator. LEA Test Coordinator contacts Office of Assessment immediately upon receiving call from STC. LEA Test Coordinator must upload completed testing irregularity/security breach form to PearsonAccess within two days.”

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*Adding: the “misconduct” label is relatively standard language in standardized test coordinator manuals. In their NJASK refusal letters last year, many parents specifically requested that their children’s tests be voided using the V2 code listed in the NJASK manual. No children were punished for this refusal code. See here for more info.

Again, if we are to assume that Test Administrators must follow the PARCC protocol that’s outlined in the Test Coordinator Manual (and what’s the purpose of a manual if not?), students whose parents submit written refusal notifications should not be permitted in the testing environment in the first place.

If administrators disregard PARCC protocol and knowingly place non-testing students in the testing room, those administrators must then, according to the PARCC manual, dismiss the non-testing students from the testing environment.

So why put them there in the first place?

The bottom line is this: refusals can and should be acknowledged and accommodated.


*Adding Part II: As any educator who has administered or proctored a standardized test knows, failure to comply with procedures outlined in the testing manuals can be considered a breach of security, which can cost teachers their certifications. If teachers or administrators knowingly allow children who refuse to test into the testing environment–despite explicit direction from PARCC not to do so–what will the consequences be for those professionals?

*Adding Part III: There are reports that NJDOE representatives have responded to inquiries about language in the PARCC manual by insisting that they interpret the phrase “non-testing student” differently than PARCC does–and that students who refuse the test are not “non-testing students.” If this is the case and the NJDOE blatantly disregards the NJ PARCC policy, does the NJDOE have the authority to allow “unauthorized electronic devices” in the testing room, for example? Or otherwise make arbitrary, politically-motivated language interpretations to discourage refusals? What’s the purpose of a testing manual with state-specific procedures?


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Irony: NJCSA “ethics” complaint promoted by “Darth Vader” of PR

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association filed an ethics complaint against Rutgers professor Julia Rubin, co-author of a report on the Garden State’s charter schools, for using her Rutgers affiliation to lend credibility to her research. (!)

The 37-page report, which is the first in a series of three (the second is expected to be released soon) by Rubin and Rutgers Graduate School of Education doctoral student Mark Weber, presents publicly-available data that clearly shows striking enrollment and demographic differences between populations in New Jersey’s district and charter schools.

The NJCSA isn’t refuting the report’s findings–it’s complaining that Rubin’s identification of herself as a Rutgers professor “lends credibility” to her work. (Note: if anyone is looking for ways to attack academic freedom, this type of complaint is a good start.)

Here’s where the irony of this “ethics” complaint becomes glaring: not only is the complaint unfounded, the NJCSA deliberately distorts the Rutgers University Lobbying Communication Policy in an attempt to give legitimacy to its argument (emphasis mine):

Rubin also claims the complaint misquotes Rutgers’ policy, deleting the phrase “made on behalf of Rutgers” to change the meaning of lobbying communication. And it omits the list of what is not considered a lobbying communication by the school — her activities, she says, fall under that category.


(So ethical! For more information on just how ridiculous the complaint is, see Marie Corfield, Jersey Jazzman, Bob BraunPeter Greene, Diane Ravitch.)

But even more irony: the NJCSA’s PR representative/”spokesperson” Michael Turner, who appears in this NJTV piece about the complaint, has been referred to as “Darth Vader” for his lobbying and public relations efforts on behalf of other groups–namely “builders and polluters”:

Michael Turner is a vice president of the MWW Group and heads the company’s toxic waste and development practice.

“If builders and polluters are on the dark side of New Jersey’s environmental wars, Michael Turner is Darth Vader,” writes Alexander Lane. “A public relations man and lobbyist, he has fought for the Windy Acres development in Hunterdon County, the Xanadu project in the Meadowlands and a strip mall near Edison Township’s beloved Oak Tree Pond.

He represents Shieldalloy Corp. as it seeks to leave radiological contamination in South Jersey, Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co.’s corporate descendants in their bid to leave dioxin in the Passaic River, and Roseland Property as it defends a decision to leave chromium under condominiums in Weehawken.” Lane profiles Turner’s career as an employee of the MWW Group, a PR firm that brainstorms how to “discredit opposition” such as the Interfaith Community Organization, the Meadowlands Conservation Trust and the Hackensack Riverkeeper. [1]

“He represents all the bad guys in the state,” said Bill Sheehan, the
Hackensack Riverkeeper. “He’s more or less a mercenary.”*

So in summary: if one does not like the findings of a report based on publicly-available data, one should demonstrate a clear lack of ethics in constructing, filing, and promoting…wait for it…an ethics complaint.




*Additional source:

In a toxic world, he cleans up nasty public relations – Michael Turner as Darth Vader

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Star-Ledger Staff

1 Comment

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