Sunday, April 23, 2017

PARCC Refusals and Doing the Right Thing

Last month, I wrote about some ridiculously punitive actions being taken against students whose parents had refused PARCC and the PARCC practice exercises. You can read about 3rd graders in detention here. As it was last year, as soon as the PARCC testing window began, so did the stories of intimidation by administrators to force students to participate in PARCC. Some examples of last year's craziness can be read here and here.

But what about districts who treat parents and students with just simple, common decency? Fortunately, those stories are out there too. They tend to be quiet. I certainly cannot blame any administrator for not wanting the punitive NJDOE spotlight on them. 

Here are just a few quotes from parents. I am not naming parents, students, or districts on purpose. Thanks to the parents who came forward to share their experiences. I hope their stories serve as examples to follow for the districts who are not treating students and parents like this. 

From Union County:
"I know there are lots of angry posts about treatment by opting out of PARCC, so I'd like to share positive experience... yes I said positive.We have a 4th grader in the XYZ district and we have opted him out of PARCC testing this coming week. We met no resistance from his teacher and none from his principal. In fact, his teacher provided us the following details so that both my son and I could be prepared for the testing week:
1. Exact testing time so that if we wished to bring him to school late we could, but he would be marked tardy for all days late to school (fair enough)
2. Where he would be while testing would be conducted
3. What he would be doing/allowed to do during the testing time: His teacher has gone the extra mile to give him work sheets and assignments on areas that he has needed a refresher on (not busy work) and reading assignments that are aligned with his reading enrichment teacher. In addition he may bring reading material, word searches crossword puzzles etc to do if he has extra time.
4. Pack a snack and a water bottle.
I know this is typically not the norm and I feel that this organization is more on the part of the individual teacher rather than the school administrators, but I appreciate the fact that we were met with zero resistance and so far no unpleasantries from the start of the opt-out process to present. Maybe it's because we discussed this with his teacher first, expressing our concerns about PARCC, then sent an email to both his teacher and principal, and finally the formal written letter as requested by the school.Thank you for letting me share our experience so far..."

From Essex County:
"There are other districts with humane and respectable practices. I live in one. It's important to note that it can be done if the administration is competent, courageous and ethical."
From Somerset County: 
"I have a positive experience with teachers, and administration in XYZ district. I sent written request.. it was approved n teacher told me that the school is having a separate room for opt-outs! Superintendent office tried to non-pushy to tell me why I should opt-in but I said no thanks n they said ok."
From Morris County:
"Positive experience in XYZ district. Even skipped most of the school form they provided (you're supposed to initial next to various statements (I understand and agree that Parcc is not a high stakes test, etc). Last year I attached a second file explaining why I wouldn't initial them. This year I just left blank and waited to see if they pushed back. Received a confirmation email from our elementary principal for our 3rd grader, and a phone call and email from the Asst Super for our 6th grader. I do think the call was in part to feel me out on how confident I was about refusing (just a hunch), but when she said 'I'm calling in regards to your refusal for Parcc for student name removed', I said 'Okay great, thanks' and then she stumbled over some words and said she was calling just to confirm."
From Cape May County:
"Positive experience here as well, in Cape May County. This marks the 3rd year for refusing PARCC (8th, 9th, and 10th grades; both intermediate and high school) and I've had nothing but pleasant experiences. This year, I was actually notified that I could bring my son into school after testing was complete for the day. I enjoyed spending the extra time with him, and driving him into school, for once. 
Everything has always been kept hush-hush in our particular school district and I believe it's because they realize the more resistance the school creates, the more students that figure out you can actually refuse PARCC. Unfortunately, the parents in our district aren't well informed, or simply don't care. I'm not sure which, probably a bit of both? But, each year, my son usually 'spills the beans' and has a couple groups of friends asking me how to refuse PARCC. 
I just simply direct their parents to the SOS, NJ, website to find the pre formatted refusal letter." 
The link to the Save Our Schools NJ (SOSNJ) information about refusing PARCC can be found here. In 2015, 233 districts were handling refusals without incident. SOSNJ created a list which can be found on their Facebook page here. Delran and Bloomfield Boards of Education were early leaders on this.

Our kids deserve more like this. 

If you have a positive story to share, please post in the comments. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

PARCC Turmoil in NJ - So What Else Is New?

The above picture was taken yesterday at a parents & kids protest of the PARCC exams outside NJ Senator Steve Sweeney's West Deptford office. This colorful bunch gathered to encourage Sen. Sweeney to post SCR132 to the floor for a vote. 

Last month, the Resolution, ACR215, passed through the Assembly quickly. Roll call from the vote can been seen here.

Since the Assembly passing, many people have been pressing Senator Sweeney to Co-Sponsor and bring the Concurrent Resolution to the floor. Senator Teresa Ruiz, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, has also been asked to bring the resolution to her Committee. So far, she has refused. Ironic, no?

A Concurrent Resolution does not require the signature of the governor. If it passes both houses, the resolution goes to the State Board of Education. They then have 30 days to amend their graduation requirements or propose to amend the current NJ State Law.

What does the current State Law actually say about graduation? Conveniently, it's spelled out in the resolutions,
"section 6 of P.L.1979, c.241 (C.18A:7C-6) was amended to provide that the State graduation proficiency test “be administered to all 11th grade pupils and to any 11th or 12th grade pupil who has previously failed to demonstrate mastery of State graduation proficiency standards on said test”
"Beginning in the 1993-1994 school year, the State satisfied the statutory requirement for a graduation proficiency test by administering the High School Proficiency Test, and later its successor the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), to all 11th grade students in the fall. Any student who did not demonstrate proficiency was retested in the spring and, if necessary, in the fall and spring of the subsequent school year..." If the student doesn't pass HSPA, the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA) was available to them. There was also a portfolio option.
Got that? The graduation requirement is 11th grade, 12th if necessary, and it's the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), or AHSA, if necessary.

What are the current graduation requirements, approved by the State Board of Education this past summer? (Hint: Not HSPA, given in 11th or 12th grade)
PARCC English Language Arts 10th grade and Algebra I as an end of year test (meaning 7th, 8th, 9th, or 10th grade). If the student doesn't pass alternative exams (PSAT, SAT, ACT, ASVAB, Accuplacer) are available to them. For Class of 2021, those alternative exams will no longer be available for graduation purposes. The student must pass PARCC ELA 10, Algebra I plus all other PARCC tests available for end of year courses, which includes: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, ELA 9, ELA 10, and ELA 11. Yes. That's SIX tests over many years.
The takeaway here is the graduation requirements are clearly in direct conflict with NJ State Law. Parents, you should be really angry about this. 

If you want to read an in-depth post about the law, Sarah Blaine wrote a brilliant post last year about it, and you should absolutely take the time to read it, here

Lots of calls, emails, and tweets plus yesterday's rally appear to have pushed Senators Ruiz and Sweeney to send this letter to SBOE President, Mark Biedron and to Kimberley Harrington, Acting Commissioner of NJDOE. 

Clearly, Senator Sweeney agrees with SCR132. Why has he dragged this out for weeks? I know I would feel much better about this if he brought it for vote. 

Now, we have to hope this letter and discussion of the graduation requirements are on the agenda for the next State Board of Ed meeting on May 3rd. There also happens to be open public testimony (aka talk about what you want) that day. 

Please. I love having company. I know the State Board of Ed would love to meet you and hear from you too. Sign up here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Another Loss for Paterson Students reports that online speech therapy is up next for students with disabilities in the Paterson School District. This, after the Education Law Center filed a complaint against the district for not delivering services to students with Individual Education Plans. 

Imagine having online services in place of having a therapist in the room with the students in Ridgewood or Princeton or Saddle River. You can't? I can't either. This is the latest hit to some of New Jersey's most vulnerable students. 

53 students in School 18, an elementary school, will be the test subjects for this program. I cannot support using a service that separates the student from a therapist. Students need to have the therapist in the room with them, directly interacting with them, and providing feedback that includes body language. 

How does this work for the student who needs feeding therapy? What about students with intellectual disabilities? What about those who need to be in a group setting for social skills support? I could keep going on, but you get the idea. There are so many basic limitations to having a therapist deliver services through a computer. 

Why is Paterson not hiring speech therapists? It's not like there's a shortage in New Jersey. Is the practice by many districts of only hiring though agencies (to save money) getting in the way? Does the cancellation of Paterson's contract with Kid Clan prevent them somehow from entering into a contract with a new agency? Why the drop in appropriated funds for special ed in the 2017-18 school year? 

Paterson Public Schools is a state controlled district, which makes it particularly galling that the state continues to underfund this district. All students suffer when there aren't sufficient funds to properly manage students' needs. In Paterson, the special ed kids must endure another failure to meet those needs.

Our kids deserve so much better than this.