Friday, August 5, 2016

NJ State Board of Ed Ignores Public Testimony

If the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the New Jersey State Board of Ed (NJSBOE) are not listening to the public, who are they listening to? What is their reaction to all of our testimony? NJDOE provided responses to testimony when they released the August 3rd agenda and this is what stood out for me.

In some cases they simply disagreed and said so. In other cases, they had some interesting citations to back up their claims related to validity. And, for the special education-related comments, clarification of just who is in control of the graduation requirements for students with IEPs.

One comment, in particular, stuck out (besides the ones that were aimed at me) because the testimony belonged to Dr. Eric Milou, a Rowan University professor, recipient of the Max Sobel Outstanding Mathematics Educator Award, former president of Association of Mathematics Teachers of New Jersey (AMTNJ) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. This is exactly the kind of education professional this board should have been listening to, but this is their response:

40. COMMENT: The commenter stated there is no evidence the PARCC assessment is an improvement over previous standardized tests, raises student performance, provides useful diagnostic information, or indicates career or college readiness.  The commenter also stated only rigorous curriculum, instruction, and the use of formative assessments will have a significant impact on student educational success. (99)

RESPONSE: Several studies (e.g., National Network of State Teachers of the Year, 2015; Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, 2015; Center for American Progress, 2016; Fordham/Human Resources Research Organization, 2016; American Institutes for Research, 2016) have supported PARCC as an accurate measure of college and career readiness and endorsed PARCC as an improvement over previous assessments.
Dr. Milou got right to the heart of what's wrong with standardized tests in general and what's wrong with PARCC specifically. It doesn't actually provide the information that's being claimed. As we pour millions of tax dollars into a highly flawed testing system, shouldn't it, at the very least, do what NJDOE claims? Shouldn't someone, somewhere, define what college and career ready means?

Also relevant is how you go about determining validity and whom you choose to document those claims. Isn't that what we're allegedly trying to help our kids navigate? Knowing who is behind the research supporting your arguments, so you understand and account for undo influence? That's really important stuff, right?

Well, in this case, NJDOE is relying on information from sources that I would consider to be questionable because of where their funding comes from. I'm not going to tip-toe around that because when the same very deep pockets are quietly funding organizations that people trust, we all need to know where those organizations are coming from. I want data, information, opinions, from places where a particular and singular influence can be accounted for. In this case, NJDOE is clearly very happy with anything funded by the Gates Foundation. An entity with a very singular focus on the privatization of US public schools, on Common Core State Standards, and on the associated testing, like PARCC. Nothing the Gates Foundation does or supports is friendly to PUBLIC education. 

Let's look at who NJDOE and NJSBOE are listening to:

National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) From the Gates Foundation website: in 2015, NNSTOY was awarded a $1,000,000 grant "to improve student learning across the nation by defining, sharing and advocating for effective teaching practices and policies." 
NJDOE didn't bother to name any of the studies to which they refer, but I'll presume they are talking about "The Right Trajectory" study released earlier this year. Twenty-three Teachers of the Year took a look at PARCC, SBAC, NJASK, NECAP, DCAS, and ISAT at the 5th grade level. They applied Webb's DOK, along with other tools of assessing the level of challenge in each of the tests. The problem is, given how the questions were asked, they didn't appear to actually apply what they found. It reads more like an opinion questionnaire - which would be fine if you weren't trotting it out as evidence of validity. The study does not demonstrate PARCC as "an accurate measure of college and career readiness."
I was not familiar with this particular study and it's interesting to see what these teachers thought of the construct of these tests and, possibly, their usefulness. That said, there is nothing in the study that speaks to the validity of using PARCC to assess college and career readiness as a high school exit exam. I would argue the simple fact that they only looked a 5th grade, and they specifically left out consideration of students with disabilities, means the scope of the study doesn't include anything that supports college and career ready at the high school level. The study's conclusion is that PARCC is more challenging than NJASK. Ok. I'm good with that. NJASK was never written as "deep skills and knowledge" test, so I wouldn't expect them to find it was. 
Center for American Progress (CAP) is a heavily Gates Foundation-funded entity. From the Gates Foundation website: Since 2008, up to June 2016, they have been awarded $8,998,810 for everything from "to support Common Core implementation" to "enhance degree completion for low-income young adults through the publishing of new policy papers, stakeholder engagement, and media outreach" to "continue researching, understanding and promoting better human capital policies to benefit all public school students and to tackle the implications of developing education reforms".   
I have no idea which study NJDOE refers to in their response. CAP has many "reports" on their website, but nothing that either compares PARCC to anything or demonstrates value in a high school exit exam. If anyone knows or has the study, please send it to me.
Fordham/Human Resources Research Organization (Thomas B. Fordham Institute and HUMRO). This was an interesting way to cite two different studies that worked in parallel. The studies looked at PARCC, 2014 MCAS, ACT Aspire, and SBAC. From the HUMRO study summary, "A parallel study was conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (hereafter referred to as Fordham), which implemented the [The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment] Center’s methodology for grades 5 and 8 summative mathematics and ELA/literacy assessments. Taken together, HumRRO and Fordham were first to implement the Center’s evaluation methodology. HumRRO and Fordham conducted their studies separately; however, the two organizations communicated often about the evaluation methodology and collaborated on the steps to implement it." 
HUMRO also acknowledges who made their study possible: "This important work was possible from funding by the High Quality Assessment Project (HQAP), which supports state-based advocacy, communications, and policy work to help ensure successful transitions to new assessments that measure K–12 college- and career readiness standards. HQAP’s work is funded by a coalition of national foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helmsley Trust."  
I haven't poked into just how much money that is, but Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been awarded $5,214,650 between 2006 and 2015, "to support the activities of an emerging network of state level education advocacy organizations in support of a convening around strategic issues" and "for general operating support" and "to track state progress towards implementation of standards and to understand how what students read changes in response to the standards."  
Interesting to note the Fordham study looked at grades 5-8. Arguably, that has nothing to do with the validity of a high school exit exam for either math or English.
And, the HUMRO study looked at PARCC's PBA and EOY. New Jersey doesn't use their PBA (only the first year, after which they dropped it) and the EOY, starting this year, was allegedly some combo of the PBA and EOY. So what exactly has NJDOE extracted from a study that doesn't talk about PARCC in the form it actually uses?
American Institutes for Research (AIR) is also Gates Foundation-funded, although they are primarily focused on post-secondary education. Since 2009 they have been awarded $9,296,140 in grants. Since NJDOE didn't bother to name which AIR study they were referring to, I'll guess that it's the National Benchmarks for State Achievement Standards 2016 study. The purpose was to look at the quality of college and career ready standards in the test using grades 4 and 8.
From their "key findings," the standards for PARCC ELA are equivalent to NAEP "basic" and PARCC math is equivalent to NAEP "proficient."
Go to page 19 of the study and read the list of "caveats." My favorites?
"Second, in some states, some of the grade 8 mathematics students took an end-of-course test, such as Algebra 1. In this benchmarking study, this factor could have had the effect of making the state grade 8 mathematics standards appear higher."
"This should not be interpreted to mean that NAEP’s Proficient levels in grades 4 and 8 are the gold standards for deciding whether our students are on track to be ready for college. No evidence has been presented by NAEP that the proficient standard in grades 4 and 8 predicts college success."  
"Fifth, this report does not, in any way, address or evaluate the quality of the CCSS. The CCSS are content standards, while this report deals only with achievement standards. Content standards represent the curriculum that teachers should teach, and the scope and sequence of what students should learn in school. Achievement standards are cut-scores on the state test that represent performance expectations." Here's what Drs. Tienken, Sforza, and Kim found on the "quality" of CCSS. 
Again, grades 4 and 8 were used, not any of the high school grades. There is nothing to support the validity of college and career ready at high school level or as an exit exam. 
Massachusetts Executive Office of Education (MEOE) They are, presumably referring to the Mathematica study done last year, comparing MCAS and PARCC for MEOE. Why they didn't just say that, I have no idea. At this point, I have no idea why NJDOE does anything. Anyway, I saved this one for last because I've written about it and provided testimony that is contrary to how NJDOE has framed this study in their support of PARCC. You can read my whole piece here, but I will just share these two particular points in this post:
1. From “key findings” on page ix of the report, “Both the MCAS and PARCC predict college readiness. Scores on the assessments explain about 5 to 18 percent of the variation in first-year college grades…” What does this mean exactly? It means that 82 to 95 percent CANNOT be explained by the results of the PARCC test. 
2. Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, Director of its Educational Assessment program, a design consultant for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and for six states, had this to say about the Mathematica report in a Washington Post article on 27 May 2016, “A tour through the literature shows that predictive validity coefficients are quite low in general and commonly run in the 0.30’s. One conclusion is that the PARCC is just about as good as any other test — which is the report’s finding in regard to the MCAS. On the contrary, the more correct conclusion is that standardized tests can predict scores on other standardized tests (which this report confirms) but it cannot validly predict college readiness at any meaningful level.” 
You could probably write a book about how much these studies do NOT support using PARCC as a college and career high school exit exam. I think NJDOE and NJSBOE need a lesson in how to read studies like these and how to properly draw conclusions from them. 

I will say, again, that having public ed policy so constrained by standardization is nothing but lazy. It does not serve our children. It does not serve our society. I am furious that we all have to wait in hope of a Governor who will have much higher expectations of public education in New Jersey. And who understands that test scores are incredibly limited in their usefulness. Our kids deserve nothing less.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

NJ State Board of Ed Fails. Again.

 Photo credit: Jesse Turner

In a business as usual move, the NJ State Board of Education (NJSBOE) voted this morning to use the PARCC exam, or, rather, multiple exams, as New Jersey's official requirement for graduation beginning with the class of 2020-21. A move that has been fiercely contested for a couple of years by parents, students, teachers, and local school boards. The vote was Yes (6): Mark B., Joe F., Andrew M., Jack F., Arcelio A., and Dorothy S. Abstained (1): Edithe F. Absent: 3 members.

It should be noted, and probably screamed from the mountaintops, that high school exit exams are NOT a requirement of the old federal education law, No Child Left Behind, nor are they a requirement of the new federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

I'm sorry to say the vote was completely unsurprising. When NJSBOE released the agenda for today's meeting, they included the New Jersey Department of Education's (NJDOE) response to testimony on Standards and Assessments (item C) since April 6th.

There were 194 individual testimonies provided from students, parents, teachers, university professors, and local board of ed members. NJDOE responded to 96 comments (synopses), and with very few exceptions, disregarded the public's testimony. The overwhelming majority of testimony was against using PARCC as a graduation requirement and, in the end, was ignored. (more on that in another post)

Save Our Schools New Jersey, a grassroots, statewide parent organization, submitted a petition against the use of PARCC as a graduation requirement with 6,000 signatures. They were ignored.

On May 14, 2016, 88% of school boards at the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) Delegate Assembly adopted a resolution stating there should be multiple pathways to graduation. They were ignored.

27 individual school boards adopted resolutions asking the state NOT to make PARCC the only exit exam. You can find most of them compiled here. Highland Park, Hopewell Valley, Bloomfield, Washington Township (Gloucester), Clifton, East Windsor, Paterson, Middlesex Regional Educational Services, Princeton, Collingswood, Bridgewater Raritan, Livingston, East Brunswick, Wall Township, Montclair, Bordentown, Ocean Township (Monmouth), Linden, Palmyra, Bernards Township, Marlboro, West Windsor-Plainsboro, Watchung Hills Regional High School, Cranford, Montville, Teaneck, and Monroe (Middlesex County). They were ignored.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Earlier this year, with yet more testimony against PARCC, the public was ignored. I wrote about that here.  

Going back further, NJDOE assembled a Study Commission on Assessments in late 2014. There were over 200 public testimonies taken at three different hearings around the state in the early half of 2015. The final report has been removed from the NJDOE website. I'll post it when I get my hands on a copy. Again, the point is, the overwhelming majority of stakeholders said, "No." They were ignored also. 

The pattern is really clear. The public has little to no influence over what happens inside NJDOE. While they regularly pat themselves on the back for acquiring stakeholder input, they appear incapable of processing and utilizing information from outside their walls. They operate in a dangerously closed echo chamber and it shows, not only in the quality of their own work, but in their blatant disregard for what is actually happening inside our schools. 

This is hardly the end of this fight. However, it is also clear that playing nice and pretending their calls for public input is genuine, is a farce. Personally, I will be at every call for public input that is made available to us, because I refuse to be silent. I refuse to give them an opportunity to say, "But no one objected." The reason I refuse is because there is nothing less than the future of our public education system, and by extension, our democracy, at stake. 

The next NJSBOE meeting is on September 7th. There will open public testimony on that date. Probably would be a good idea to let them know just how awful you think this decision is. 

I leave you with Save Our Schools New Jersey's statement on today's vote to make proficiency on PARCC 10th grade ELA and Algebra 1 exams a requirement for graduation, for the class of 2021 and beyond.
"Despite unified opposition from parents, school board members, and teachers, the State Board of Education has chosen to endorse a graduation requirement so inappropriately difficult that it would fail 60% of New Jersey students.
As the Education Law Center and ACLU NJ noted, these new regulations also violate New Jersey laws and our state constitution.

Save Our Schools NJ's 31,000 members will be working to ensure that New Jersey's next governor:
- Eliminates the high school graduation standardized testing requirement, which hurts students and does not improve educational outcomes. Only 15 states still have this requirement.

- Reforms the process for selecting New Jersey State Board of Education members, so that they are accountable to the people of New Jersey rather than to the Governor who appointed them."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

We Must Choose To Do Better

Last weekend I attended the Save Our Schools' Peoples March in Washington DC. Teachers, parents, public education activists, and civil rights activists from all over the country were on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on a hot and humid day, to tell the country that we have had enough. I brought my family with me. What better place to have my 17-year-old daughter see, live, participate in a living democracy? What better place to hear, firsthand, people like Jitu Brown and Reverend Barber speak? What better place for her to understand that when your government is not working, when the systems meant lift up all of us - especially public education - are not, then it is not only your right, her right, to speak up, it is also our duty to do so. It is not radical to speak up. As a country, we've forgotten this. 

The quote above is from Rev. Barber's speech. I wanted to run up and hug him when he said it. It's the reason why I brought my daughter, had her volunteer as an info officer, and had her march with us to the Ellipse. Our children must see us trying. I don't ever want to be that person, have her ever be that person, who saw wrong, complained about it, and then did nothing. 

Silence is not an option. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

To: NJ State BOE: I Can't Believe We Still Have to Protest This Crap

Tomorrow, the New Jersey State of Education is taking its last public testimony on the use of PARCC as the graduation requirement. It took a long time to decide what to write about. What more can possibly be said that has not already been said by me and many, many others? A friend joked that he would simply state, "Please refer to my previous few testimonies" and then icily stare them down for the rest of the allotted speaking time. I was thinking along those lines, but this came out instead. 
1 June 2016New Jersey State Board of Education 
Testimony on PARCC for graduation requirement: I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.
The title of this testimony is not meant to be disrespectful to this Board, merely a demonstration of my frustration with having to continually appear before this Board and provide testimony that will only fall on deaf ears. Whether that testimony is heartfelt, stemming from personal experiences that none of you currently sitting on this Board would have any first-hand knowledge of, because (1) you don’t have children in public school, and/or (2) you aren’t the parent of a student with a disability. There is barely a hint of recognition on your part that you are missing a great deal by not listening to and engaging with the actual stakeholders in this mess, namely, parents and their children. 
It also hasn’t mattered when testimony has been presented with hard facts and figures. Unbelievably, there appears to be no curiosity at all about why there is so much pushback on Common Core and PARCC testing. This isn’t just some little hiccup. This is a monumental policy failure that will impact schools, teachers, and students, actual people, for a very long time. Your response? Do more of the same. It is remarkably lazy policy.
So here it is. PARCC is a failure. All of that time and money for a failure. Last October, Mathematica released the results of a study comparing PARCC to MCAS, the Massachusetts state standardized test, and their predictive validity for college and career readiness. This is highly relevant since you are about to make PARCC the gatekeeper for a high school diploma in this state. The education policy that you endorse is only about that insipidly narrow focus on the yet undefined term “college and career ready” as determined by a score on PARCC.
The Mathematica study looked at Grade 10 Math II, Algebra II, and ELA. (Let me remind you here, that Drs. Tienken, Kim, and Sforza took a look at that grade in a study and found the Common Core Standards to be well below the former NJ standards. See my testimony from 10 February 2016. note: I wrote about it here.) The result, from “key findings” on page ix of the report, “Both the MCAS and PARCC predict college readiness. Scores on the assessments explain about 5 to 18 percent of the variation in first-year college grades…” What does this mean exactly? It means that 82 to 95 percent CANNOT be explained by the results of the PARCC test. So how can that possibly, validly, predict “college and career readiness”???  Answer: It can’t. It doesn’t. 
Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, Director of its Educational Assessment program, a design consultant for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and for six states, had this to say about the Mathematica report in a Washington Post article on 27 May 2016, “A tour through the literature shows that predictive validity coefficients are quite low in general and commonly run in the 0.30’s. One conclusion is that the PARCC is just about as good as any other test — which is the report’s finding in regard to the MCAS. On the contrary, the more correct conclusion is that standardized tests can predict scores on other standardized tests (which this report confirms) but it cannot validly predict college readiness at any meaningful level.” 
He also said, “With such low predictability, you have huge numbers of false positives and false negatives. When connected to consequences, these misses have a human price. This goes further than being a validity question. It misleads young adults, wastes resources and misjudges schools.  It’s not just a technical issue, it is a moral question. Until proven to be valid for the intended purpose, using these tests in a high stakes context should not be done.
The response to Dr. Mathis, from the creators of the Mathematica study, “Mr. Mathis is also correct that the correlations are low enough that many students (and parents, and colleges) would overestimate or underestimate their true college readiness—if they relied only on the test score to make the judgment. Fortunately, students have lots of other information available to inform their judgments alongside the test scores (most importantly, their high school grades). We wouldn’t recommend that anyone rely exclusively on the test score for high-stakes decisions.
So, why would this Board consider, even for minute, further wasting time and tax-payer money on PARCC? Let alone use such a faulty measure as an obstacle for the students in this state? It is your obligation to the public to not allow PARCC to be used as a graduation requirement. 

Thanks, Mike Simpson, for the picture.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What If Our Schools Looked Like This?

In New Jersey, we are currently in the midst of our "testing season." Opting Out (refusals) is the story of the day. Parents are pushing back on a system that has become largely impersonal and very standardized. 

While opting out is one way of expressing extreme displeasure of what our schools have become, the reason is because we have to have a new conversation -- one that includes teachers and parents and students -- about what schools should be like. 

I have no doubt if you asked a hundred people what they think it should be, you'd get a hundred different answers. However, I think you'd also find some very basic common threads in those answers. Fully funding all public schools. High quality pre-school for all children. Student-centered learning. Teachers who are well trained and can continue to hone their craft as their careers progress. Clean and safe physical environments. Field trips. Hands-on learning experiences. Unique learning experiences. Opportunities for students to demonstrate what they've learned. Authentic, teacher-driven assessments. Parent and community participation. Transparency. And, all of these attributes are for everyone. 

The Willow School would be a great example for many of these qualities. 
✔ High quality pre-school
✔ Student-centered learning
✔ Well-trained teachers
✔ Clean and safe environment
✔ Field trips
✔ Hands-on learning experiences
✔ Students demonstrate what they’ve learned
✔ Authentic, teacher driven (not standardized) assessments
✔ Parent and community involvement

What is The Willow school? Well, it's a private independent school here in New Jersey, located on a 34 acre campus. Its founder is the New Jersey State Board of Education President, Mark Biedron. 
"At The Willow School, children discover who they are, the joy of learning, and the wonder of the environment around them." 
Sounds pretty great, right? 

The Head of School has this to say about student experience:  
"At Willow, our shared dedication to academic excellence thrives on the constant development of the intellectual capacities of our students. Academic preparation, without the intellectual muscle to think independently, deprives students from fully engaging in the challenging future awaiting them. Academic excellence at Willow means that our learning objectives not only include the mastery of content needed for the next level of academic challenge, but also includes conceptual understanding in the broader world, and the rich connections to our school culture." (emphasis mine)

This is from the overview of the school's curriculum:
"The integrated curriculum allows students to learn material in great depth as well as to see the connections that naturally exist among subject areas. The primary device for integration of the curriculum is the development of communication skills using the English language. Parallel to that usage is the study of French or Spanish from kindergarten through eighth grade, with Latin introduced in sixth through eighth grades. While the disciplines of mathematics and science, and of language and social studies, are often connected at The Willow School, it is also important for children to learn, for instance, how scientific and technological advances have shaped the ways humans relate to each other or how the use of mathematics determines the design of music and architecture. All learning is spiral; the child returns to skills and subject matter that becomes increasingly complex and challenging." (emphasis mine)

Ok, sign me up. I want to go this school. 

The teachers. What about the teachers? Who are the people guiding these students as they develop "intellectual muscle?" Take a browse through the teacher profiles. Mark, I have to give you mad props for your team. Masters degrees. Many years of both teaching and heading up similar schools. Not a TFA member in sight. 

One of the teachers answered a short, get-to-know-you Q&A on his profile page. I highlight these two questions and answers because every parent wants this, and I am sure every teacher does as well. 
What do you love about being a teacher at Willow?
I feel as though Willow affords me the opportunity to be flexible with my curriculum to create something new with my students every year.  Learning doesn’t happen in the same way for all children and Willow allows for changes to be made that benefit all types of learners in each class.  Willow inspires me to make learning come to life because I’m allowed to teach and learn with students among various themes/topics with a curriculum that I am truly passionate about.
What satisfies you the most about your work at Willow?
Being able to see examples of student actions and work that reflect deep and connected learning is the pinnacle of my teaching experience at Willow.

What about the physical environment? The Willow School has a long list of accolades. You can read all about them here. They have been recognized for their green buildings, earning the highest awards for USGBC LEEDS-certified buildings. I'm going to make a wild guess here and say you won't find lead in their drinking water, mold or peeling paint, rodents, or broken heating/cooling systems in those buildings. 

As you would expect, the price tag is pretty steep, like college tuition steep. The middle school grades are just shy of $30k a year. It is interesting though, that their pre-k program demonstrates what "choice" ought to be. You can send your 4-year-old to school for five half days, or five full days, or a combo of half and full days. 

Why am I telling you about this school? Mark Biedron and his cohorts are fully supporting PARCC as the testing requirement for graduation in New Jersey, beginning with the class of 2021. (I say "the," but really it's SIX PARCC tests to graduate.) He fully supports, at least publicly, Common Core State Standards and the aligned testing. Given the tenets of his school, CCSS and the aligned testing are for everyone else's children. Not for his. And not for the students at his school. 

I don't doubt that The Willow School's price tag is commensurate with what those parents are getting for their children. Heck, the 34 acres alone would be expensive to maintain. 
What I want to know is, why isn't Mark fighting like mad to have every school in New Jersey look more like his? He clearly believes very strongly in that kind of an education. It's a spectacular example of opting out of a standardized education. The disconnect is astonishing, and remarkably disappointing. 

On May 4th, the State Board of Education is having their monthly meeting. It's also one of the rare times when open public comment is allowed. I encourage beg you to attend and tell Mark what you want your children's education to look like. Sign up to attend here

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#aPARCCalypse aka PARCC Bombed in NJ

In New Jersey today, it's a bright, cool Spring day. The sun is shining. Our kids are in count down mode to the end of the year. And, it's "testing season." Yes, the testing window is so bloody long, we've named it. 

Early this morning, many students in the state were getting ready to take the PARCC. Lo and behold, no one could log on. Parents in districts all over the state started getting texts and emails from school announcing that no testing would happen today. 

Bob Braun has put it best today: 
BREAKING--The PARCC collapse. After bullying parents and children into accepting the PEARSON testing regime, state Education Commissioner David Hespe has the chutzpah to call the testing company's screw-up "unacceptable"? The NJEA calls it "a disruption atop a disruption." If children were denied their regular schedules because of a teachers' strike, judges would be tripping over each other to issue injunctions because of the disruption caused by job actions. How about an injunction against the denial of a thorough and efficient education caused by the devotion of time and resources to the business of profit-making test companies?

I've documented some of the bullying here. Commissioner Hespe all but blew off the level of screwed-up-ness of today. Are we getting back from Pearson the money spent on substitute teachers today? Do parents even realize that districts have to do this in order for both classes and proctors to cover all students? 

But, what I really want to know is, what is it going to take to end it? What will it take for our state legislators to finally understand that this is a colossal mistake? That, unfortunately, due to ridiculous pressure from NJDOE, our children need to be protected from the people we have trusted to educate them? What will it take for our governor-appointed State Board of Education to start acting like they are there for our children, not to be a rubber stamp to the NJDOE? 

What will it take for parents and teachers to finally speak up and say, "enough"?

Fortunately, there's an opportunity to do that very soon. On May 4th, the NJ State Board of Education is holding their monthly meeting and it's one of those rare times when public comment it allowed. If there was ever time they needed to hear public comment, it's now. Here's the link to register. I look forward to seeing you there.;recid=24515

Edited to add my friend, Dan Masi's epic pic: 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Jersey Admins Have Lost It - Updated!

I've been watching in horror as the PARCC testing "season" began in New Jersey last week. I am unabashedly in the Opt Out corner. Oh, sorry, forgot, this is New Jersey, where we play word games. "Refuse" was the word of choice last year, as opting out is not "allowed." This year "refusing" is getting kicked back to parents too. NJDOE has been in full spin mode for several months and we know the districts with the highest refusals rates from last year have caught an earful. 

First, though, let's be crystal clear about something. When a parent opts out /refuses /insert your choice of it's-never-going-to-happen here, they are NOT asking for anyone's permission. They are very simply informing you of what they are choosing for their child. You are expected to respect that decision. End of story.

Parents aren't opting out because the test is hard. Amazingly, that insipid thought is still floating around and a "news" source published it (I refuse to link to the NYPost. Go Google that hot mess of "journalism" if you must.). They. We. I. Am doing it because public education has become a marketplace for the next best shiny, never-been-tested, device, curriculum, test, insert latest crap your local board of ed got suckered into buying...Chromebooks anyone? None of which has anything to do with educating our children. 

Leading up to the testing window, there were stories of stupid stuff...reward parties, bids for prom, getting out of taking the English final exam, the cheer on PARCC videos...demonstrating the level of desperate these people have sunk. 

Once the testing started, truly awful stories started pouring in, and continue to this week, about how districts were handling students whose parents refused PARCC. You really have to wonder what is going on inside the heads of these teachers, principals, superintendents, and county superintendents. 

I wonder if they have thought about the real damage done to the trust that any really good school must have with its students and parents. Listen carefully, hurting children is not going to get you that trust. You're going to lose it immediately, and there will be nothing you can do to get it back. 

The first completely crazy story came from a mom whose elementary school-aged children were made to sit in the main office during testing, along with a few other students. She kept her kids home during the scheduled morning testing window. Unfortunately, there were "unforeseen" technical issues (gee, shocking) and so the school administered the test later in the day.
For 130 minutes..."they were NOT allowed to read a book under any circumstances because they would "disturb other people if they read a book". They were also NOT allowed to lean back in their chairs- they could only sit straight up and not move at all for two hours! My son's back was sore after this cruel and unnecessary punishment! Additionally, they were only allowed to look ahead, they could not turn their heads to the left or to the right, because this is what elementary school children are supposed to do: sit straight up and not move a muscle or make a sound for two hours, just like little soldiers! My daughter "got in trouble" for attempting to tie her hair back in a pony tail! Another kid was yelled at for looking at a monitor screen (the ones showing the visitors by the front entrance). My kids were so traumatized by this experience, I feel like crying right now! I just got finished writing and sending an email to our superintendent describing today's events and asking why our children were treated in such an unnecessarily cruel way, as if they were criminal offenders, just because my husband and I chose to exercise our parental rights to refuse a test for them we believe is fundamentally wrong!"
She and another mom met with the superintendent the next morning. He was clearly prepared and had contacted his county superintendent seeking support for his poor judgment. He did not think the way the children were treated was wrong. He told the moms the children "were not his problem" since they weren't testing. And, declared that next year he would not accept any refusals at all (good luck with that). 

By the end of the discussion, he did apologize and promised that his staff would have clearer instructions on how to handle the children. Not much of an apology. Leaves me wondering what kind of place this is if staff at an elementary school don't know how to act in a humane way towards children.

I also wonder if this superintendent knows those children can't sleep at night. Are now afraid to go to school. I wonder if he realized one of those other students made to sit there for two hours is a special ed student with an IEP. And that particular student missed their speech lesson while sitting in the office, not being allowed to move or speak. 

In another district, a special ed student with anxiety was made to take the test even after the parent had refused. The school pulled the student aside and told her if she refused to take the test, she would have lunch detention, and if she stayed home during testing, she wouldn't move up to the next grade. Under duress, of course, she took the damned test. 

When the mom asked why her refusal was ignored, she was told that because "testing skills" is in her child's IEP, so she had to take PARCC. (I call bullshit.)

Let's just process that for a sec. A parent refuses. The admin decides that some obscure reference to "testing skills" (whatever that is) in an IEP is reason to go against the specific wishes of a parent. And, they did that while bullying a student with a disability and anxiety. Seriously? Have you no shame? 

Did it ever occur to you to fight back? Parents, I promise, would have backed you up! 

Why is this happening? Well, NJDOE and our State Board of Ed are incapable of admitting a mistake and have twisted themselves into knots in order to sell Common Core State Standards and the aligned test, PARCC. They in turn have clearly put the screws to the districts.

Our legislature (really, the NJ Senate Education Committee) utterly failed us last year by not putting the bill in front of the governor that would have protected our children from this nonsense.

This whole mess is an abject failure in leadership. Time to clean house. 

Edited to add: A little while ago, a mom got in touch with me about her 9th grade son's experience. Mom had turned in her refusal to the district superintendent two weeks before PARCC began. It was acknowledged and her son was told to bring a book, he would be sitting in the testing room, but would be allowed to read. 
Day one came along, "he came prepared to do so Monday morning, only to find the admin plop a chrome book down in front of him. He said "I'm not supposed to take the test, My mom sent in a refusal letter" and the teacher completely ignored him. He raised his hand and said it again, this time to have a proctor say "that's not how it works." At that point he was feeling totally defeated and intimidated, so he went ahead and took the test. He was so upset when he got home. He said he was actually afraid to say or do anything further for fear of getting in trouble. Frankly, 2 days later I'm still speechless."

19 April 2016 Edited to add: The crazy continues. This time a student getting detention for attending her regularly scheduled classes. From the mom:
We had refused PARCC and received a letter from her principal, XXX, confirming her refusal. On March 23, 2016 a letter posted to the school website stating "Our test schedule has been designed to minimize disruption to the normal school day. Students in these classes have been assigned to a testing cohort and room and will be required to remain with their cohort through the conclusion of each test session. Students not enrolled in these classes will attend full school days throughout the testing window."
PARCC testing began yesterday. She attended all her regularly scheduled classes without a problem. TODAY, during Math class, they were doing a review of the benchmark assessment test when one of the teachers, XXX, pulled my daughter out of class and told her she needed to go sit in the library instead.
My daughter said didn't understand why she has to go to the library. Ms. XXX called the principal, XXX, down to the library and he told my daughter that she was supposed to be in the library because she refused the PARCC. He said she shouldn't have gone to her regular class and it was considered 'cutting class'. Therefore, he is sending a note home to me explaining that she has a 3 day after school detention she needs to complete as disciplinary action(emphasis mine)
I find it ironic that all of this happened on the tails of me receiving a letter of accolades (along with a voucher for a free ice cream at Applebees) for my daughter on making the Honor Roll.
Way to go WMC for building her up before you tear her down.(insert sarcastic tone here...)....ummmm....sooooo...tell me again about your Harassment/ Intimidation/ Bullying policy XXX High School?I've left a voicemail for XXX informing him that I will be in first thing tomorrow morning to discuss this. #ToBeContinued...

In a district where a personal friend's daughter attends, a teacher decided to call out every student in her (honors) math class who is refusing PARCC. She told them if the still refused come the first day of testing, they would be made to sit and stare at a wall. She further belittled their parents' choice by snidely remarking "good luck" in attending college if they didn't take the test. And, a final remark about how students in another class aren't as smart as they are and she expected them not to take the test. 

Needless to say, my friend is really angry about that exchange with her daughter and her classmates. The trust I mentioned above is now gone. Initially, her daughter didn't want my friend intervening and asked to take the test. My friend, bless her, spoke with her daughter about doing the right thing, about not acquiescing to bullies. Upon reflection, and armed with accurate information about the test, her daughter is very angry too. Good luck to that teacher getting her trust back. 

I'll close out this post with an example of how districts should be handling opt outs/refusals. When a parent sends in a note informing the school administrator their child will not be taking PARCC, the response should be, thank you for letting us know your decision. We will provide an alternate setting and allow your child to work on homework or read a book. If you should decide to bring your child in late/after testing is done for the day, they will not be marked absent or late. That's it. It's really simple.

Here's an example of how that worked in one district:

Wanted to share my experience from today. We have moved to a new school in a whole new district just recently and learned that the Refusal movement didn't take off in our new school. I found out after asking around that not a single student in this school refuses testing. I mentioned twice to the teachers and very little response just "okay". My daughter has mentioned to the teacher that she doesn't participate in PARCC testing during practice tests and it was met with "okay". After all of that I was a bit nervous of how they would handle it considering that she would be the only student refusing but after going to the school in the morning and a brief talk with the principal he said no problem just email me your letter and [my child] will be able to spend testing time in the Library. I asked if I should send the email elsewhere too and he said no just him and he would take care of it. As nervous as I was about how this would unfold I must say her principal handled it so well and did not make her feel any bit uncomfortable or like the "bad kid" that we had dealt with in our previous school.
I am very pleased this year how this has turned out so far.

Last year, NJ Senator Ruiz decided to only pass a resolution (SR137) against bad behavior by districts, but it was very clear: 
The Commissioner of Education is urged to develop guidelines by September 1, 2015 that identify a range of appropriate policies  that may be adopted by a school district when considering how students not participating in the Statewide assessment will be supervised and what, if any, alternate arrangements will be provided to them during the test administration. The guidelines should prohibit a school district from taking punitive action against a student including, but not limited to, the adoption of a sit and stare policy in response to the student’s refusal to participate in the Statewide assessment. (emphasis mine)  The guidelines should also address how and when the district’s policy will be communicated to parents, students, and school district staff.
Clearly, the resolution wasn't enough.