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.

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