Thursday, January 8, 2015

From Diane Ravitch - A Passionate Student Activist Rebuts School Superintendent about PARCC Claims

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From The Education Activist: From Student to Teacher blog [A student activist navigating the school reform movement on a journey towards becoming a teacher. Fighting to reclaim public education and occasionally blogging along the way] Saturday, December 27, 2014. See http://theeducationactivist.blogspot.com/2014/12/at-last-south-brunswick-board-of.html
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From Diane Ravitch - A Passionate Student Activist Rebuts School Superintendent about PARCC Claims  --  Diane Ravitch writes: Melissa (Mel) Katz is preparing to become an elementary school teacher at The College of New Jersey. She has her own blog, The Education Activist: From Student to Teacher, and this is how she describes herself: I have been involved in education seriously beginning in my senior year of high school and especially my freshman year in college. I am a student activist, always researching, speaking in Trenton and at local board meetings, and traveling the state of New Jersey to meet different people and attend different education related events. Education is my life, my passion, and I couldn't imagine spending every day anywhere else but in a classroom.
 
Mel recently attended a school board meeting in her hometown of South Brunswick, New Jersey and listened to the superintendent defend PARCC testing. Below she takes apart his claims and refutes them. If PARCC is so great, she asks, why have the number of states participating in it dropped from 24 (plus D.C.) to half that number? The superintendent defends Pearson and insists that PARCC testing will not drive instruction. She responds with logic and clarity.

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My Response to SB Superintendent

By Mel Katz
At the last South Brunswick Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jelling came to the podium for about 10 minutes to give a short speech on PARCC, testing, and opting-out. I recorded his short speech, which can be seen below (the link should bring you right to the video). After coming home from the meeting unsatisfied (to say the least) with a lot of what he said, I decided to go through and break down his main points. 

Breakdown of points:

"Something that we are going to administer to so many students across so many states."
Blogger Mercedes Schneider has been following the Common Core/PARCC debate closely, and has broken down the PARCC attrition from 2011-2014. I recommend reading her entire piece with detailed explanations at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mercedes-schneider/parcc-attrition-from-2011_b_6364458.html. A main quote to sum up the article: "PARCC exited the 2011 starting gate with 24 states plus DC. By the close of 2014, PARCC states actually and legitimately contracted with Pearson for its PARCC assessments is less than half the initial 2011 count."

Here, we then must ask ourselves: why are so many states having reservations about PARCC and common core? Why are so many well-respected academics raising questions about the tests and the standards?
 
"...criticism in terms of who framed the PARCC, and Pearson is the entity that seems to be credited/blamed depending on your bend... and I think... that's a specious argument, it just doesn't hold water. Pearson has been doing business in this district for decades and decades, and the idea that the imposition of private equity and entrepreneurship in education is a bad thing just completely ignores the truth... I absolutely reject that on its face."

First, just because a company has been doing business for "decades and decades" doesn't mean that all of their products are good for students.

Well, look here! A piece written on December 15, 2014 by Alan Singer states the following: "Pearson Education is closing its foundation; it is under investigation by the FBI for possible insider dealings in the Los Angeles iPad fiasco; the company is being sued by former employees for wrongful termination; and its PARCC exams are losing customers." Again, absolutely a piece to read in its entirety. Also, another point of clarification: this isn't private equity. Rather, this is a product sold to districts. If Pearson invested 100 million of its own money into the districts to create personalized exams, that would be a different story, but not the case here. [SEE http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-can-run_b_6327566.html ]
 
"It doesn't impact what we do here on a school level."

This is completely untrue. Because of the high-stakes association of these tests, teachers are being forced to "teach to the test," kids are learning "test taking skills," and classroom instruction is being aligned to prep students for the tests. Ask your kids, ask any teachers who are willing to speak on this (search Mark Weber - Jersey Jazzman, Ani McHugh - TeacherBiz, and Marie Corfield for more on this), or do some research about "teaching to the test." You will find things like art, music, social studies, science, and even recess being cut because they aren't tested, and that time is needed for test prep.

Save Our Schools New Jersey, "
a grassroots, all-volunteer organization of parents and other public education supporters who believe that every child in New Jersey should have access to a high-quality public education," recently released a guide titled, "12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC test." Some of their main points include the following:

1. PARCC is poorly designed & confusing

2. PARCC's online testing format is very problematic, particularly for younger students
3. PARCC is diagnostically & instructionally useless
**4. Taking and preparing for PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests is replacing learning
Administrators at many schools "report that they spend as much as a third of the school year preparing students to take these tests. That time includes the actual time spent taking the tests, the time spent taking pretests and benchmark tests and other practice tests, the time spent on test prep materials, the time spent doing exercises and activities in textbooks and online materials that have been modeled on the test questions in order to prepare kids to answer questions of those kinds, and the time spent on reporting, data analysis, data chats, proctoring, and other test housekeeping." i
5. PARCC will further distort curricula and teaching
6. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests undermine students' creativity and desire to learn
7. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests have an enormous financial cost
8. PARCC is completely experimental. It has not been validated as accurate & yet it will be used to evaluate students, schools and teachers
9. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests are abusive to our children
10. PARCC will worsen the achievement and gender gaps
11. High-stakes standardized tests fail to improve educational outcomes
12. PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core aligned tests are designed to brand the majority of our children as failures
Read the entire document with detailed points of research under each point at http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/2014/12/23/the-12-reasons-we-oppose-the-parcc-test/, and explore around their website for more information and resources.

"This is the way we will glean data on our children."

As I commented on the original video, many people know that these tests are not going to tell us anything we don't already know. About anything. There is no point the district can make for these tests other than "collecting the data." Sorry, but I don't view my kid a data point for anyone to "data mine." The teacher knows my student best, and there is no data that will tell them what they don't already know - where students strengths are, where they need improvement, etc. Teachers spend all day with them, and through authentic, teacher-created assessments, teachers can see how individual students, as well as the class as a whole, are understanding and further demonstrating their understanding of the material.

"What do you think about PARCC? I'm agnostic." - then later: "I am pro-compliance, and I'm pro data."

The contradiction here comes when Dr. Jellig says he is pro-data & then goes on to say, "Well, if it doesn't work out the way they say then we will question." So, are we okay with not validating the tests work before we experiment on kids? He should be saying "show me the data before you try out your test on our kids." - especially with high stakes associations for students, teachers, & schools; not the other way around.

"This test has flexibility..."

Later on, Dr. Jellig states, "There wasn't a menu given to us as there was with AchieveNJ. PARCC is what's for dinner! The state said here is your assessment, administer it well." So in all honesty, I'm struggling to see where the "flexibility" - in either the tests themselves or the administration of the tests - is to be found.
 
"We get 24 million from the state. I don't want to give it back." Dr. Jellig then goes on to say he doesn't want to suggest that the failure to comply might result in backlash from the state, but then adds, "it could happen, but I don't expect it to happen."

This is more of a clarification point. FairTest recently released a guide called "Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School." Here are some main points:
 
NCLB says that 95% of students must take the test or the school will fail to make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) and then suffer sanctions. However, this provision is now essentially irrelevant.
 
First, schools that do not receive federal Title I funds are exempt from sanctions under NCLB. Those schools are labeled as not making AYP, but NCLB does not require a state to do anything to them.
 
Second, 41 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico) have waivers from the U.S. Department of
Education (ED) that have eliminated the sanctions imposed on most schools that fail to make AYP. The basic message is that in waiver states, a school not in or close to the bottom 5% likely has nothing to fear from a boycott. However, a school that is at or close to the bottom 5% would be advised to proceed with caution - parents may not want to increase the likelihood of severe sanctions (staff firings, turning it into a charter school) by having both very low scores (or, depending on the state, low rates of score increases) and many opt outs.
 
Third, in states without a waiver, every school must now have 100% of its students score "proficient." As a result, almost all schools are "failing" and face possible sanctions. But if a school is already failing, there is no additional danger from a boycott.
 
In addition, the 95% rule does not pertain to any tests other than reading and math exams mandated by NCLB. Separate tests used to judge teachers in other subjects as well as other state or district-mandated tests are not covered by this requirement.
 
There may be some risk for some schools due to the 95% rule. But for the great majority of schools, including Title I schools, the risk is non-existent or minimal and should not be a reason to avoid boycotts.
 
Here is the entire guide. Their website has incredible resources on these topics, and I encourage you to explore around. [SEE http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/OptingOut-95percent-rule-funding.pdf ]
"I will also tell you that when the first cut of data comes back... we will take our time and thoughtfully digest and reflect every aspect of what we receive to determine its usefulness."
 
Cut scores are not yet set. So discussing how all of this data is going to be the best data we ever retrieved or all of the amazing things we are going to do with this data makes no sense. We don't even know what "passing" on the PARCC test is, and the state is not going to set this "cut score" - passing score, possibly what proficient is (again, we don't know how this will be scored) - until AFTER the first test. So essentially, the state will look at the test from March/May of this year, and then over the summer decide how many kids fail, and how many pass. There should be absolutely no high stakes - for students, teachers, or schools, attached to this test. As Mark Weber, public school teacher and part time doctoral student in education policy at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (who blogs as 'Jersey Jazzman') writes, "Why are we attaching high stakes to PARCC before we have even seen how it works when it is fully implemented? The fact is that we just don't know how it went, or whether it will go well in a year. We just don't know. We need to properly assess this field test, then run a no-stakes administration across the state with data and results open to the public so the PARCC can be properly vetted." See more at - http://jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2014/04/nj-field-tests-parcc-who-are-you-gonna.html.
 
"But to do that now ("reach out and say this test isn't what was promised")... I feel like there's almost a bullying mentality going on. We don't know PARCC; we don't anything about it because it hasn't actually happened.
 
Saying there's a "bullying" mentality is a far reach. The current "reform" culture in education is extremely oppressive to students and teachers, where top-down mandates are employed in a "do what you're told or else" system. Bullying doesn't work from bottom up; it's called resistance - and clearly there is a reason for it. Concerned parents, teachers, and students are asking the questions and raising concerns that impact THEIR education and educational experience. If we don't know anything about PARCC - which we don't - why are putting so much faith in another high stakes test? Why are we putting our faith in the same reforms that have so-to-speak "failed" education in the past? Why are we allowing such high stakes associations be tied to a test that is untested and unproven? Read here about what happened in New York after they implemented a common core aligned Pearson test - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/17/a-painful-analysis-of-new-common-core-tests-and-the-n-y-results/

Here you may say, "We've had standardized testing for so long, what other alternatives are there?" Well, there are. Read the following:

"What's wrong with standardized tests?" [http://fairtest.org/whats-wrong-standardized-tests ]

"The Limits of Standardized Tests for Diagnosing and Assisting Student Learning" [http://fairtest.org/The+Limits+of+Standardized+Tests ]

"The Dangerous Consequences of High Stakes Standardized Testing" [http://fairtest.org/dangerous-consequences-highstakes-standardized-tes ]

"Authentic Assessment and Accountability" [http://fairtest.org/k-12/authentic+assessment ]
"Lastly, with regards to opt out, which has been a topic of conversation... there is no opt out. The state laid out no opt out and we don't tend to either."

Just to point out - wording is important. Notice how Dr. Jellig continually says "no opt-out." He is correct that there is no opt-out law *in New Jersey (As Choose to Refuse NJ (https://sites.google.com/site/choosetorefusenj/volunteer-information) states, "l) California is [one of the] only state that has official "opt out" policies. Therefore, it is likely that unless you live in California (or Pennsylvania using religious exemption to opt out) if you write a letter requesting to 'opt your child out' you will receive a letter stating they cannot honor your request because there is no opt out clause. Make sure to state that you are REFUSING to allow your child to participate in the testing.") But parents have a legal right TO REFUSE THE TEST. REFUSE. Wording is important. Parents have a right to choose to not to have their children be guinea pigs for essentially Pearson's untested and unproven tests. The state may have no policy on opt out, but they also can't force a kid to take a test. Parents have a right to refuse. Many letter circulating with information, groups like "United opt-out" (because some states use that language).

According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the "fundamental right" to "direct the upbringing and education of their children." Furthermore, the Court declared that "the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere "with the power of parents to control the education of their own." (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten "liberties" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). in recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children's education, the Court has stated, "It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder." (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).
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Video of speech:
https://fbcdn-video-o-a.akamaihd.net/hvideo-ak-xap1/v/t42.1790-2/10833437_300365800173110_714274304_n.mp4?oh=d5fee5bf402d9f260da98f002098579a&oe=549F70A5&__gda__=1419734873_1ee4bff01d77124751885894ac85a37d
 
Here are further resources [SEE http://unitedoptout.com/state-by-state-opt-out-2/new-jersey/ ] and sample letters [SEE http://www.scribd.com/doc/235229105/New-Jersey-July-2014 ].

The members of our district deserve to know the truth, and deserve to see the full picture when making educational decisions for their - our - children.

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My name is Mel Katz, and I am an Urban Elementary Education and Women's and Gender Studies double major at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). I have been involved in education seriously beginning in my senior year of high school, and especially beginning in my freshman year and into sophomore year of college. I am a student activist, always researching, speaking in Trenton and at local board meetings, and traveling the state of New Jersey to meet different people and attend different education related events. Education is my life, my passion, and I couldn't imagine spending every day anywhere else but in a classroom. Opinions here are all my own and do not express and/or represent those of any organizations I'm associated with or TCNJ. // Follow me on Twitter @mel_katzz   --  See https://www.blogger.com/profile/12426002651665521282 for information regarding Mel Katz.
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