Newark Mayor Ras Baraka released this updated version of an earlier statement opposing the statewide tests known as PARCC and supporting the right of parents to keep their children from taking them:
“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed in 1965 to reduce the disparities that exist between wealthy and poor schools. It was intended to ensure that schools have the resources needed to educate the students they serve. However, since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was introduced in 2002, testing has become the focus of ESEA. Students are required to take annual standardized tests. They are taught and tested to perform on “the test.” The results are used to drive major policy decisions about students’ futures, educators’ evaluations, and, as we have seen here in Newark, even whether schools stay open.
“While test data can be a useful part of accountability systems, the misuse and overuse and of standardized tests has undermined the promise of equity and opportunity that were originally at the heart of ESEA. Learning time spent on test-prep, skyrocketed testing costs, narrowing curriculum, and high-stakes pressure on both students and educators alike drain schools and districts of the very resources ESEA was created to provide.
“PARCC is a new, unproven, test that will be given beginning this March by districts across New Jersey and eight other states. Students must take the PARCC tests on computers. Unlike previous NJ state assessments, PARCC is a national test produced by a federally-funded consortium and aligned with the new Common Core Content Standards (CCCS). It is the latest round of test-driven reform that, under NCLB has not led to dramatic increases in student achievement or produced better outcomes for our students.
“PARCC tests are designed to be aligned with the CCSS. The preparation, costs and resources required to implement the CCCS and PARCC fall heavily on states and districts already facing extensive budget pressures. In Newark, we have little information about the status of Newark Public Schools transition to the CCCS, the depth of implementation of CCCS at schools across the district, or reliable measures of students’ success moving toward the new standards. We also do not know the progress of the district’s efforts to get all of its schools and students PARCC ready. Have all schools received the professional development and supports needed to understand the standards and implement new curricula? Have all students received the time and access they need on computers to adapt to taking a computer-based test? Have all schools received the infusion of technology that will be needed to administer the test?
“Newarkers have had enough of standardized testing being used to harm not help their children. Many parents, students, educators, and advocates are standing up and standing together in support of their children and schools. Some parents are preparing to opt their children out of these exams, refusing to take them. They know PARCC tests are longer, more stressful, and designed to produce lower scores. They know that the district has not adequately prepared their children to sit for a computer-based test. They know that not every school has had the preparation required to implement the CCCS, let alone begin using PARCC to test students on their mastery of those standards.
“More than half the states that originally signed on to PARCC have withdrawn. Recently, Chicago announced plans to delay full implementation of PARCC testing until its schools and students were better prepared. Parents and educators nationally are questioning the purpose of this rapid transition to this high stakes assessment system that has major consequences for students, teachers, and educators without creating the appropriate infrastructure or ensuring the preparation required to meet the standards. Like parents, many states do not want to be set up to fail. However, this is exactly what the rapid fire and premature implementation of PARCC is setting us all up to do.
“Diagnostic testing and assessment have a place in student learning, to tell us where an individual child needs help, what teachers need to reteach, and where a school can do better. However, the overuse of standardized tests as the primary gauge of what students know has undermined their credibility as useful assessments. Testing should be de-emphasized. Standardized tests should be administered much less frequently. For example, students in Finland are tested once in high school. We also do not have to test every child, every year.
“New Jersey Department of Education should create a more fair and open assessment development process that allows for multiple approaches to assessment, provides more opportunity for educator initiative and professionalism, and is more useful and friendly for parents and families. The state should focus on creating a balanced accountability system that uses many types of evidence of student learning. It should put in place a protocol for testing representative samples of students at different grades without narrowing curriculum or imposing test-prep mania on schools and classrooms, as the established and valid NAEP does. Until then, New Jersey needs an immediate moratorium on using standardized test for high-stakes purposes, such as graduation, teacher evaluations, and restructuring schools.
“Parents of NPS students are increasingly raising concerns about PARCC. Educators have consistently challenged the benefit of these tests for their students and on the quality of curriculum. It is my view that parents and educators are vital voices in schools and educational policy. I stand in solidarity with their opposition to this regime of standardized testing and call upon the district to meet parental decisions to “opt-out” with educationally appropriate, not punitive responses, including alternative settings and activities wherever possible.”