Monday, January 18, 2016

Study Commission Pt.3: What Public Testimony?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I dissected the report issued by the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey. In Parts 3 and 4 (coming tomorrow), education activist Sue Altman reports on the public testimony that was not only downplayed in the final report in terms of numbers of persons who testified, but completely ignored in the commission's recommendations.

Here's Sue's report:

On three separate dates in early 2015, in three locations in New Jersey, over 200 individuals testified on the issue of high stakes testing in New Jersey as part of the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey.  It took a full year for the report to be published to the public; in fact, while the original document was dated November 30, 2015, the document was not released to the public until January 11, 2016.  This was the same day as a Board of Education meeting at which I spoke on this very issue:

So, who testified?

The Department held testimony at three locations, and also provided an opportunity for people to submit testimony via email.

Submitted Written Testimony118
Jersey City26
(The State report states there were 100.)

Jerseyans from all walks of life took part in this democractic exercise, and that in itself is inspirational.  There were people who identified themselves as parents, teachers, businesspeople, concerned citizens, students, representatives from other groups, and more.  (Note: some people double-affiliated, such as "I am a parent of two girls and a business owner.")  

What did the testimonies say?  

The testimonies were OVERWHELMINGLY anti-PARCC, anti-testing.  I coded each testimony as "Overall supportive of PARCC/high-stakes testing," "Overall negative on PARCC/high-stakes testing," and "Mixed."

Of the 209 testimonies, THREE were "pro-testing," THREE were "mixed" and 204 were "negative."

Let me repeat that.  97.1% of people who drove to all corners of NJ in the midst of a polar vortex were NEGATIVE AGAINST HIGH-STAKES TESTING and PARCC.   

I can't think of anything else in the whole universe that 97.1% of New Jerseyans would agree on, except maybe that the world is better with Bruce Springsteen in it, the Shore is fun in the summer, or that traffic sucks.  I mean, really, challenge yourself to think of something less controversial.  For those of us who are visual learners, I kid you not

And yet, when they published the report, the State barely acknowledged this outcry.  They only admitted to three themes from the testimonies (time spent testing, accountability concerns and technical difficulties).  But, these are not the biggest concerns raised, and are a bit of a strawman. (Strawmen?) Of course the time spent testing is a concern, but the concerns are not limited to the actual time, and are much deeper than that. And, accountability concerns, especially the ones mentioned in the report (teachers being evaluated on material they don't even teach) is a no-brainer. I'm embarrassed for them that they admitted to learning about this only through public testimony. Mentioning
technical difficulties— well, that was a bit of a humblebrag given that Hespe has already said there were fewer than they expected.  The other ideas in these testimonies, the stuff that parents and citizens actually witness in their day-to-day lives with their own children,
​the stuff that ​
would be incredibly useful if someone were actually interested in learning about the effect PARCC is having on children and families—was ignored.

The state even went out of their way to claim, "In this report, the Study Commission seeks to clearly demonstrate it has listened to and considered the comments and has responded and provided clarification, as appropriate. The Study Commission acknowledges the concerns that have been voiced about the issue of overtesting in the State’s public schools and its impact on instruction."

And yet, what makes this so difficult to swallow is that the recommendations issued do NOTHING to remedy this concern at all, and in fact have made it much, much worse. So ok, you "demonstrated" you "listened to" the comments, but you sure did not demonstrate you cared about democracy or public opinion. Has there ever been a more clear-cut case of tokenism?

So listen up NJ: The state never wanted to hear your opinions, they just wanted to say they held a commission, they "listened," so they could publish this report. It was a foregone conclusion all along; we were all duped.

But I still think the testimonies are worthwhile. In my next post I'll publish the themes from the testimonies, and bit about why it all really
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