By Becca Field
Chris Cerf may be leaving as education commissioner but the toxins he brought to the state education department remain—as will his Broad-financed flunkies who will obediently carry out the policies that will help companies like his and Joe Klein’s Amplify prosper.
So it’s important now to follow the legislative consideration of the Common Core and high stakes testing. The hearings held by the Assembly Education Committee this week on the (CCSS) and accompanying standardized tests (PARCC) reveal the state is still careening toward the edge of a cliff without brakes.
Some might give the benefit of the doubt to the architects of this free fall, but it seems more likely our public schools have been set up to fail. There’s nothing like public school failure to provide arguments in support of the privatizers and their profit-making friends. Implementation of the new high-stakes standardized tests (PARCC) that align our testing to the CCSS is the greatest single statewide threat to our public education system – from urban to suburban, elementary to high school.
It is up to us to unite to apply the brakes.
New Jersey “voluntarily” adopted the CCSS in 2010, as a prerequisite to apply for Federal Race to the Top funds, those engines of education “reform.” Objections to the CCSS range from its violation of state and local control over education policy to warnings from education experts who find deep content flaws in the standards. But we do not even have to enter those debates to understand the imminent danger to public education here in New Jersey caused by PARCC, the high stakes tests required as part of the CCSS’s implementation.
PARCC tests will replace the NJ ASKs for 3rd through 8th grade and be used at the high school level as end of course exams, apparently replacing the HSPA as a graduation requirement. Three major problems with the PARCC:
- The tests will cost school districts millions of dollars to implement, money school systems don’t have and can’t raise under the 2 percent cap. The costs include professional development for teachers, payments to PARCC for the tests themselves, and the gigantic technology bill for the tests that are delivered electronically (requiring one device for every two students and broadband to accommodate the huge load of testing devices run simultaneously). Some of these costs are upfront investments, but many, including the hardware and software, will include ongoing financial commitments of funds. These costs will force budget choices in every district, and likely will result in less investment in non-tested subjects that enrich education for all students.
- These are high stakes tests. The results will not only be used to evaluate student progress but they also will be used to judge teachers, administrators, and entire schools and districts. Under the new evaluation model, how well a student performs on a test now determines part of how the teacher is evaluated. Can there be any question then that a teacher will feel even more pressure to teach to that test? As a district decides how to spend limited resources, can there be any doubt they will invest first in the tested subjects (math and English right now) and less in subjects such as art, music or physical education? As a commercial enticement, PARCC offers additional tests that can be administered earlier in the year to help prepare for the big test. Many districts may opt to invest in these tests, increasing the amount of time children spend taking tests as well as the amount of money spent on these exams because their apparent success depends on how well children perform.
- While Cerf says we must close the achievement gap, these tests will serve only to exacerbate it. The correlation already demonstrated between standardized test scores and poverty will be enhanced by the technology requirements of PARCC. We already know many of our poorest children attend class in crumbling buildings—but, now, students with fluency on computer devices will clearly have an advantage. Students who have access to these devices outside of school, or at least in school for non-testing use, will be better prepared to take the electronic tests. Those unaccustomed to drag and click will lag behind.
This isn’t just about Christie bullying urban districts anymore and selling their assets to for -profit partners. Every school district will face the financial and academic problems brought about by PARCC. All children and all teachers will be caught up in the test prep frenzy. High performing districts will have to make tough choices between the investments that have fostered their excellence and the PARCC tests to ensure they pass evaluations. Struggling districts will now have to invest millions more in technology just to administer tests that by their very nature already discriminate against children already more likely to lag behind on standardized measures.
If these tests are rolled out statewide in the next school year we will all go off the cliff together as whoever replaces Cerf will tell us all why we are underperforming as we spend millions of dollars to adapt to his or her new demands. As the introduction of the new teacher evaluation program revealed, the education department does not wait for the pilot to be evaluated before statewide implementation takes place.
We need immediate legislative action to stop plans to implement PARCC tests.
Becca Field is the pseudonym for a public school activist.