Sunday, January 17, 2016

Study Commission Report Pt. 2: Big Brother and The Brainwashing of NJ

Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada
Part 1 of this as-yet-to-be-determined-part series on the final report of the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey focused on the Commission's members, who the DOE should partner with going forward, how the DOE should crush the Opt-Out movement with 'reformy' propaganda funded by 'reformy' billionaires (aka. "the business community and philanthropic organizations"), and all that professional development.

This post will focus on the recommendations for the amount of testing and graduation requirements, modifications for Special Education and English Language Learner students, data (because data is king!), and perhaps my favorite: "Using PARCC Data as a College and/or Business Placement Tool".

And finally, if you see an (*) at the beginning of a paragraph, it's a reminder to reference the video I posted in Part 1 in which former NJDOE Assistant Commissioner Bari Ehrlichson admits that the PARCC is not diagnostic. 

As stated in Part 1, unless otherwise noted, all emphasis is mine.

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Assessment Tools, including PARCC

PARCC is wonderful! PARCC is fabulous! PARCC is here to stay! Yaaaay! But the commission also recognized that there is too much testing going on, so they recommend districts do a testing inventory.

*The commission goes on to list five rather lengthy descriptions of what constitutes a good assessment tool (pgs 11 & 12 in the report). The only one PARCC even remotely fulfills is the one requiring the tests be electronic. But PARCC is here to stay! But how to convince parents to let their kids take the test? Get your local BOEs to do your dirty work:
Recommendation 27

The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State education associations and advocacy groups, identify a range of best practices that may be adopted by district boards of education when considering how to work with parents and communities to ensure all eligible students complete the Statewide assessments. The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE communicate to school districts that both State and federal law require students to participate in the Statewide assessment programs, as appropriate. The consequences for schools and school districts for student non-participation in the Statewide assessment program, as required by federal law, should also be disseminated to school districts.
*The gold standard for standardized testing is the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). Given to randomly selected students throughout the country, it's the best statistical snapshot of what all US students know over time. And right now, thanks to NCLB, RTTT and tests like PARCC, US students are stagnating. Other states have woken up to that fact. Even though the consortium is down to less than half the states it began with, PARCC is here to stay! Why? Maybe because Gov. Christie gave Pearson a sweetheart tax break to stay in NJ?

The only good news is that at least until the class of 2020, it won't be the only requirement for high school graduation. And my guess is that the Opt-Out movement will only continue to grow despite whatever ad campaigns the DOE will run against us.

Teacher Evaluations

I'm going to let Russ Walsh comment on this one. Russ is a nationally-recognized reading expert who also analyzed the report. NJ should be honored to have him as a Professor at Ryder University and he should have been included in this commission. (Keep dreaming, Marie.) 

In the area of teacher accountability and standardized tests, the Commission finds that "the positive and encouraging results of the educator evaluation system thus far, indicate that the system is working." The Study Commission dismisses educator concerns about using test scores for teacher evaluation by saying that much of the concern should be mitigated by the fact that the vast majority of teachers in the first year of the evaluation design were rated as "effective" or "highly effective" and that the ratings were pretty much the same whether student growth scores were used or not. 
Once again the Study Commission thinks the biggest problem is a failure to communicate well. If only the NJDOE could get all the good news out about teacher evaluation, people would be embracing it. The Commission calls for professional learning efforts and greater transparency about how teacher evaluations are calculated. They further recommend that the NJDOE "encourage" school districts to use the information for teacher improvement, "particularly of novice and struggling teachers." 
The Study Commission might have spent some time looking at all the evidence that shows how the use of standardized test scores in any proportion as a part of a teacher's evaluation is simply unsupportable. They might have read the work of Audrey Amrein- Beardsley (Vamboozled andRethinking Value Added Models in Education) or looked at the white paper from the American Statistical Association calling into question any significant use of standardized tests as a measure of teacher effectiveness. They might have then said that these measures should be removed entirely from formal teacher evaluation, but that is not the message the Governor wanted to hear.

Special Education Populations

Again, Russ Walsh sums it up best:
The Study Commission clearly heard the concerns of parents and teachers of students with special needs and ELL students. They recognize that these students need special accommodations when it comes to standardized testing. They make six recommendations in this area that boil down to acknowledging there is an issue, suggesting the NJDOE do something about it in collaboration with school districts and calling on the NJDOE to talk to the federal Department of Education who insists all these special populations take these tests, to see if more flexibility can be provided in testing these special populations. 
These recommendations lack specificity, but the acknowledgment of the issue in the face of stupid federal rules is welcome. It is truly cruel and unusual punishment to insist that all students, no matter what their learning disabilities take these tests.

Use of Data to Improve Teaching and Learning

*The the phrase "high-quality assessments" is used several times throughout this report. It's laughable because PARCC is anything but, and yet, it's being used to determine the future of students and the fate of education professionals. Imagine if you will, oncologists being indoctrinated into using french fries to fight cancer. There is testing and data and professional development all geared toward brainwashing them into thinking it will work because that's what the federal government wants because McDonalds will turn a hefty profit from from it all—despite the fact that it will never, ever work, and may in fact, do more harm! This is what we are up against.
Recommendation 38

The Study Commission recommends that school districts engage in a consistent and rigorous review of PARCC and other available student performance data as part of their routine continuous improvement efforts regarding curriculum and instruction.
Yes, it's gotta be 'rigorous' because this test is killing education. 
Recommendation 39

The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE encourage school districts to use the PARCC data, as they continue to be validated and better understood, as only one of several tools to improve teaching and learning. The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State education associations and advocacy groups, provide professional learning to educational practitioners, primarily principals and teachers, about how to analyze and use assessment data in program and curriculum planning.
"One of several tools", but the only one that really matters to the DOE.  
Recommendation 40

Insofar as teachers’ familiarity with and understanding of PARCC data are critical elements for their acceptance and use as a learning tool, the Study Commission recommends that NJDOE continue to communicate a consistent message about the lessons learned as a result of the PARCC implementation in spring 2015. The Study Commission further recommends that the NJDOE continue to encourage school districts to embed within their strategic plans the use of student assessment data as an important tool for school improvement.
Doesn't matter if it doesn't work, we just have to brainwash teachers into accepting that it does. 

PARCC Data as a Graduation Assessment

This from Save Our Schools NJ:
Governor Christie's Testing Commission is recommending that, starting with the class of 2020, all students be required to take every PARCC test for which they are eligible in order to qualify to graduate. This includes three years of PARCC testing in high school, which is three times what is required by federal law. 
Students in the Class of 2020 would be able to use other tests or the portfolio process to meet their actual graduation testing requirement, but only if they also took (but not necessarily passed) every PARCC test for which they are eligible, starting with those administered in 2017. 
Students in the Classes of 2021 and beyond would also have to take every PARCC test for which they are eligible (starting in 2017) and would also have to pass the Algebra I and the 10th grade English Language Arts PARCC tests in order to graduate.

PARCC Data as a College and/or Business Placement Tool

This is perhaps the most disturbing part of this report. I'll let the recommendations speak for themselves:
Recommendation 48 
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE encourage IHEs (Institutions of Higher Learning) throughout the State to use PARCC assessment scores for identifying course placement and enrollment in dual-credit programs. The Study Commission further recommends that IHEs work with the NJDOE and the PARCC consortium to share data on student progress in college courses to assess the validity of the PARCC assessment and to assist in the development of future tests.

Recommendation 49 
The Study Commission recognizes that most New Jersey employers require entry-level job applicants to pass company-required tests in English and mathematics that assess their abilities to understand vocabulary and grammatical rules and to solve basic math problems. The Study Commission further recognizes that many employers could also benefit from knowing applicants’ abilities to solve more complex problems that demand higher-level critical thinking skills. Finally, the Study Commission believes the business community would be well served to learn more about how PARCC assessment data can be used to better gauge the capacity of applicants to do the job or for growth within the company. Accordingly, the Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE convene an informational session with stakeholders in New Jersey’s business community to review PARCC assessment item content and help them to gain greater insight into how PARCC assessment results can be useful to them, within the context of their respective hiring needs, employment policies, and human resources guidelines.

And there you have it. Big Brother is alive and well and living in NJ. Not only will all your child's education 'data' be tracked from K-12, it will now potentially be made available to colleges and—God forbid—potential employers. 

Next up: education activist Sue Altman reports on all the largely-ignored public testimony.