Saturday, January 16, 2016

Study Commission Report Part 1: Will #ZucksBucks Save PARCC/Crush @NJOptOut?

Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Final Report of The Study Commission On The Use Of Student Assessments In New Jersey

Get ready!!

Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada

Is the NJDOE taking lessons from the ShamWow guy?

Sham? Wow!

The Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey has released its final report and its a doozy. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee (or a bottle of Xanax), sit back and prepare to be infomercialed! In addition to the same 'ole testing, data collection, and 'college and career' weirdness, the Commission recommends a heavy dose of professional development for educators, and PR funded by 'reformy' money and aimed at crushing the Opt-Out movement, but wrapped in the guise of 'informing the public' about
the wonderfulness of the PARCC. Like many 'As Seen On TV' products that don't actually deliver what they promise, the DOE has to sell the PARCC the only way it can: convincing parents that we really are those dimwits former US Ed Secretary Arne Duncan called us, and that the PARCC really is magic. And wow, what a sham that is! 

I will attempt to unpack this report in two or three posts, but there's so much CCRAP to wade through that, "I think I'm gonna need a bigger boat." Unless otherwise noted, all bold, underlined and italicized text is mine.

The overarching themes, as I alluded to above, are that 1) the PARCC test is wonderously-fabulous; 2) the State DOE simply did a lousy job marketing it; 3) teachers will buy into it as long as we give them boatloads of indoctrination professional development; 4) parents will buy into it because we will flood their media outlets with propaganda.

Before I begin

I have posted this video clip several times before. You will need to refer back to it as you read through the rest of this series. Anything that refers to it will be marked with an (*). 

This is a panel discussion about PARCC which includes, among others, former Assistant NJDOE Commissioner (and now Chris Cerf underling), Bari Ehrlichson and Seton Hall Professor Dr. Christopher Tienken. 

For a test to be diagnostic, that means truly helpful to a teacher, truly able to tell you where a student is with a specific skill, there needs to be at least 25 items for that specific skill to reach a reliability where you can make a decision about what an individual student knows...  Are there 25 questions per specific skill on the PARCC test so teachers and parents really have an understanding of what kids know at the specific skill level?

Ehrlichson (at aprox. 1:30): 

[T]he PARCC end-of-year/end-of-course assessments — are not intended to be sort of the through-course diagnostic form of assessments, the benchmark assessments, that most of us are used to, that would diagnose and be able to inform instruction in the middle of the year. 
These are in fact summative test scores that have a different purpose than the one that we’re talking about here in terms of diagnosis. 
So they're not diagnostic at the individual level, so it's going to be difficult for teachers to look at these scores, particularly when they get them back in September and October, for kids who are no longer in their class, to get fine-grained information about specific skills or standards or sub-clusters or whatever we want to call them. There's just not enough questions on the test to do that.

All this in addition to Ryder University Professor and Literacy Researcher Russ Walsh's research that found that many of the reading passages in the Language Arts portion of the test are several grade levels above the tested grade. 

So, there's our baseline. PARCC doesn't do what its supporters claim it will, and there is research to prove it. 

And here we go...

The Introduction

This section had my yellow highlighter firing on all cylinders. It started out with the usual blather about how the commission listened to all the testimony given by hundreds of people around the state over the course of several months, "and has responded and provided clarification, as appropriate." So, if they didn't think your concerns were appropriate, they didn't respond. Makes sense. In an upcoming guest post, education activist, Sue Altman, will have more on how well the commission actually listened to public testimony 

Here are a few gems:
[T]he Study Commission does not believe the philosophy of data-informed practice is among the root causes for the criticisms that have been raised in the debate regarding standardized testing and PARCC.
Well, the commission may not 'believe' it, but ask any informed education professional or parent, and they will give you the facts. Data is exactly at the root of this divide. Never before in the history of US public education have educators been forced to collect and analyze so much data. And parents are rightly concerned about who is seeing it all, for what purpose is it being used, and where it will all end up.
*[A]nxiety and fear levels surrounding [PARCC] remain palpable and appear to have formed at least part of the basis for the anti-PARCC television, radio, and print advertisements, which arguably appear to have contributed significantly to the parent opt-out movement in spring 2015. A lack of trust between policymakers and educators and the abundance of misinformation seem only to add to this atmosphere of anxiety and fear. Therefore, many of the recommendations that follow focus on improving the relationships between policymakers and educators and on building educator confidence that the State's educational system appropriately uses assessments to foster learning... the Study Commission believes educators, parents, district board of education members, and other stakeholders must embrace a shared understanding that assessment data can be used effectively to inform and improve teaching. Moreover, the PARCC data must become a critical part of this shared understanding as the data continue to be better understood.  
*Yes, there is a huge lack of trust between the State Department of Education, parents and educators because the DOE is not being honest. Let's get one thing straight: the Opt-Out movement was not started by educators, and it was not started in NJ. It was started by parents in other states and has spread like wild fire across the country. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not true. This notion that parents are too dumb to realize CCRAP when they see it is the same condescending attitude many in the DOE and the 'reform' community (including certain newspapers) have taken in regards to state takeover communities: you're too dumb to know what's good for you. 

As I reported last month:

The state DOE estimates that 15% of high school juniors, 7% of freshmen, and 4.6% of students in grades 3-8 refused to take the test. But based on anecdotal reporting and comparing '14-'15 enrollment numbers to the actual number of tests completed, NJEA and Save Our Schools NJ put those numbers at around 110,000—the second highest opt-out number in the nation in our first year of testing. New York was number one with 240,000.

*As physicians take the oath to "first do no harm", educators have an obligation to subscribe to research-based best practices and pedagogy. If we don't inform the public about the deeply flawed PARCC test, we are not fulfilling our fiduciary obligation to the children and parents of this state. So yes, the NJEA ran ad campaigns—based on research—to inform parents about what the NJDOE wasn't telling them.  

The Commission:

David C. Hespe Chair Commissioner of Education

Dana Egreczky Senior Vice President, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod Executive Director, New Jersey School Boards Association

Catherine M. Lindenbaum Parent Association Representative

Dr. Marcia Lyles Superintendent, Jersey City Public Schools

Nicole Moore Principal, Shamong Township Schools

Matthew Stagliano Educator, Camden County Technical Schools

Dr. Raymond A. Yannuzzi President, Camden County College

Tracie Yostpille Educator, Freehold Township Schools
Of the members, only 2 are public school educators; there are no special educators; there is a Broad-trained superintendent, and a Vice President of the 'reform'-supportive NJ PTA. 

The Professional Development Recommendations

Although the report gushes about there being "teams of educators and parents to conduct a point-by-point review of the Common Core State Standards with the objective of making recommendations for New Jersey-based standards that are even higher than the Common Core State Standards", don't you believe it. For all his pandering to the anti-CCSS Republicans, Gov. Christie is only getting changes to about 200 of the over 1400 standards. And those changes mostly consist of replacing a word or phrase. But that's okay because in the Department of Edutopia, there will be oodles and oodles of brainwashing "sustained professional learning" in every school in the state!

Even if we think the regulations stink, even if we think the standards are inappropriate, even if peer-reviewed research says the same thing, educators must teach to the standards or face disciplinary action. So, NJEA must provide members with appropriate professional development. So do the other organizations involved in public education. In addition to NJEA, the report lists the other partners in this effort:

  1. New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) 
  2. New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) 
  3. New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) 
  4. Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs)
  5. New Jersey Parents and Teachers Association (NJPTA)
  6. The business community

The first four make perfect sense. But the last two? As I stated earlier, the National PTA is a 'reform'-supportive organization. They are heavily funded by the Gates Foundation, with $500K alone given to them to support the Common Core. Pearson and Microsoft have been sponsors of some of their national conventions. They gave member email addresses to Pearson so the testing giant could send them 'reform' propaganda. And the uber-'reformy' propaganda film, Waiting for Superman, was shown at their 2011 national convention. See Diane Ravitch's post for more on their efforts to undermine public education 

And of course, as long as public education is being turned into a business model, we simply must have members of the business community on board to show administrators how to 'churn' staff, maximize profit learning and generally train staff how to work longer and harder for less pay and job satisfaction. 

Here's a sampling of the PD recommendations:

Recommendation 3  
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE provide school districts with the time, support, professional learning, and communication necessary to accommodate any changes to the standards that might impact the school district’s planning, implementation, and decision making about curriculum, instruction, and/or instructional resources.

It all looks so good on paper, doesn't it? Where and how will all this time magically appear? 
Recommendation 7 
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE collaborate with State education associations and advocacy groups to create online cross-disciplinary professional learning initiatives accompanied by sufficient incentives to encourage the State’s educators to expand their professional knowledge and skills and to turn-key their learning for colleagues.
I think we know by now what they mean by "advocacy groups", but what about "incentives"? If we're talking increased compensation for advanced degrees, well then, that makes sense. But after Gov. Christie cut $7 billion from public education funding over the past 7 years, school districts have cut back on tuition reimbursement and additional compensation. So, I'm thinking maybe... Wawa gift cards?

Recommendation 8 
The Study Commission endorses the understanding that every teacher is a literacy teacher and recommends that the NJDOE encourage school districts to devote considerable time and effort to providing sustained professional learning in standards-based instruction for teachers of subjects other than English language arts and mathematics...

Hey all you art, music, computer, and health and PE teachers, guess what? You too get to share in the fun and joy of teaching Language Arts to your students! Yipee! It doesn't matter that the Common Core and PARCC have decimated your programs at every grade level. It doesn't matter that you don't have enough time for PD in your own subject area these days. It doesn't matter that you don't have a degree in Language Arts. You are going to get some 'magical' training so you too can boost those test scores! Because seriously, nothing prepares a child who wants to be a musician when they grow up like massive doses of training in how to read informational text! Duh!

All this PD is wonderful as long as school districts don't look to the state to help pay for it—especially if it's a state-run district. Just ask the folks who work in Newark. They're $300 million in the hole to charter schools for students who transfer—and some that don't.

Shared Vision for a Comprehensive Assessment System 

This section deals with how the DOE is going to sell their product the PARCC. Five of the nine recommendations deal with salesmanship. According to the report, as long as school districts give educators the time and means for PD, everything will be hunky-dory.
Recommendation 9 
A comprehensive assessment system... uses State, formative, interim, and summative assessment tools that are tightly aligned to standards to inform curriculum, instruction, and assessment. A comprehensive assessment system is used to address immediate student needs, inform ongoing instructional changes, guide long-term educational improvement, and provide on-going, timely, and actionable information on what students know, understand, and are able to do in relation to the standards.
PARCC does not do this and the NJDOE said so. Notice that "State" is listed as the first means of assessment.

* Recommendation 9 also recommends that the impact of PARCC on other assessments be studied. Many high schools are doing away with educator-developed mid-terms and EOCs in favor of the PARCC. It is educational malpractice to replace a legitimate assessment with one that is deeply flawed and doesn't do what it says it does.  

Something good:
Recommendation 10 
[The] NJDOE [should] assist school districts in obtaining the training necessary to establish their own comprehensive vision for school district assessment and how each assessment tool relates to an important learning or strategic objective.
Good, because last year the DOE had no idea what it was doing. Seemingly every week Hespe was releasing new and/or revised information about the PARCC.

Recommendations 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18 deal with "communication". 
Recommendation 11 
[T]he process for communicating the shared vision for assessment include multiple strategies and tools for communication, numerous forums and venues at various times, and multiple methods for assessing the quality and effectiveness of the messages. All events and announcements made throughout the year (e.g., test score releases, testing windows, educator evaluation reports) must be consistent, clearly connected to the shared vision, and coordinated among stakeholder groups at the State and local levels via multiple sources.
Doesn't matter if our message is full of CCRAP. It just matters that it's doing its job of convincing people it isn't. 
Recommendation 12 
[T]he Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE assume a leadership role in ensuring all State education associations and advocacy groups commit to bear a collective responsibility for communicating widely and consistently throughout New Jersey this shared vision for assessment.

*This assumes all stakeholders share the vision. What happens if we don't? No professional education organization should never "commit to bear... responsibility for communicating" a false and/or damaging message about high stakes testing and educational best practice.

Recommendation 14 
The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE, in cooperation with State educational associations and advocacy groups, develop and launch a proactive communication campaign throughout the State regarding: (a) the State’s role and responsibilities under federal and State laws and regulations with respect to educational standards and the use of student assessments in schools; (b) best practices in assessment of all student populations, including English language learners and students with disabilities and; and (c) what the NJDOE determines to be the most common, frequently occurring, and widespread misunderstandings and inaccuracies about educational standards and the use of student assessments in New Jersey’s public schools.

Recommendation 16

The Study Commission recommends that the NJDOE organize a communication team, comprised of representatives from all stakeholder groups, to pool resources and coordinate and facilitate Statewide communication of the assessment vision. This team is not intended to serve as an advocacy group, but rather as an informational group.

Translation: We got our butts kicked last year by the Opt-Out Movement and educators informing parents about how lousy PARCC is, so we have to turn up the propaganda machine.  

Recommendation 17 
Among the strategies to be used for delivering a widespread and consistent message about the assessment vision, as well as other critical issues in education, the Study Commission recommends the NJDOE (a) employ public access television channels and radio throughout the State to run informational broadcasts about the shared assessment vision; (b) seek the cooperation of the business community and philanthropic organizations to fund and sponsor the development of such informational broadcasts; (c) prepare ready-to-use multimedia informational packets and make them available to district boards of education and educators; and (d) use television and radio outlets and social media to more consistently reach out directly to parents and families about ways in which they can support their children’s learning.

Read it and weep. The NJDOE wants to call in the big guns— corporate 'reform' money—to flood the airwaves and social media with a "widespread and consistent message" propaganda campaign to "reach out directly to parents and families about ways in which they can support their children's learning" crush the Opt-Out movement.

It really is that simple.

And they want to develop "a database of professional email addresses" so they can send their propaganda right to your inbox.

For the past six years, NJ education 'reform' has mainly focused on our state-controlled school districts of poverty and color. This report leaves no doubt that the NJ DOE now has its sights set on suburbia. Wonder who Hespe is 'dialing for dollars' first? Zuckerberg? Gates? Broad? The list is endless.

My upcoming posts will deal with the Commission's recommendations regarding the PARCC and all standardized tests, technology, data, special education and ELL concerns, and finally "Using PARCC Data as a College and/or Business Placement Tool". 

Time to go make another pot of coffee. 

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