Friday, April 1, 2016

10 Things Every Parent Should Know About the PARCC

Photo: Seattle Times
As the PARCC testing window approaches, it is time for New Jersey parents to make the decision whether or not to opt their children out of the test. Technically in New Jersey there is no 'opt out'. Parents can simply refuse to allow their child to take the test, despite what school districts may be telling them to the contrary. 

Last year, State Board of Education President Mark Biedron went on record as saying, "We know we can't force any kid to put their hands on a keyboard" —at least for now. If the DOE gets its way, starting with the class of 2020 (this year's 8th graders), the PARCC will be a requirement for high school graduation. 

But we do know this: State law currently does not require students to sit for the PARCC; it only requires the state to administer it. And with the frequency that the DOE changes the graduation requirements, and the backlash they are getting from parents, chances are the PARCC won't be around too much longer.

However, The State Department of Education is determined to force the test on our children. It has put districts with large numbers of opt outs last year on corrective action plans to increase participation. If this test is the magical cure-all, why are many school districts now coercing, scaring and bullying parents and students into taking the test?

As doctors take the Hippocratic oath to "First do no harm", educators have an obligation to do no harm to students by teaching and assessing based on research-based and peer-reviewed best practice. The PARCC test does not make the cut.

So, in order for you to make a more informed decision about the PARCC, here are ten things every parent should know: 

1. The test is not diagnostic. In order for any test to accomplish this, it must have at least 25 questions per assessed skill. The PARCC does not. Bari Ehrlichson, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Education, admitted this last year in a panel discussion on the PARCC.

2. The PARCC does not consistently assess grade-level skills. Rider University Professor and reading expert Russ Walsh analyzed some of the sample language arts questions and found many of them to be several grade levels above the tested grade. This is not only unfair to both students and teachers; it is also demoralizing to students. How can anyone be expected to succeed at something when the odds are heavily stacked against them from the start?
3. Research has shown that student designed projects and research are far more effective and meaningful ways for both teachers and students to assess deep learning and understanding. Standardized tests in general are meant to show trends, and as such, PARCC falls far short on the assessment continuum.
4. The American Statistical Association has warned that standardized tests should not be used to assess educator effectiveness because the methods being used are simply not reliable. And with the enormous emphasis now put on data in teaching, teachers should not be evaluated based on a flawed test that provides flawed data.
5. Out of the 24 states originally in the PARCC consortium only seven plus the District of Columbia will be participating in the 2016-2017 testing. This should be a red flag warning to every parent and educator.
6. PARCC is not a reliable predictor of 'college and career readiness'. Recent research shows that high school GPAs are the most reliable predictor of college success. Yet all across this state—and country—related arts classes that help build those GPAs are being scaled back or eliminated to make way for more Common Core study and PARCC prep.    
7. A recently released study published in the School Superintendent Association's Journal of Scholarship and Practice concluded that a higher percentage of the 2009 New Jersey high school core curriculum content standards in English language arts and math prompted higher-order thinking than the 2010 Common Core State Standards for those same subjects and grade levels. We are dumbing down our students. 
8. The amount of testing students will be subjected to starting with the graduating class of 2020 is not only against current law, it’s just plain cruel. Starting with this class, in order to graduate high school, students will have to take and fail the PARCC not once, not twice, but three times before any real assessment of their academic progress can be used. What educator in their right mind thinks this is best practice?
9. There are big problems with scoring. Officials from PARCC have admitted there are discrepancies in scores between students who took paper and pencil tests vs. those who took the test online, with the former group scoring on average higher than the latter. And, despite PARCC's promise of leveling the playing field for all students in all states, the PARCC consortium states have the option to change their cut scores. This is nuts.
10. The fact that in its recently released report, the Study Commission On The Use Of Student Assessments in New Jersey failed to honor and recognize the hundreds of people who testified against this test, and instead recommended a marketing campaign* to crush the Opt-Out movement and brainwash parents and the general public into thinking it will solve all the world’s problems is proof that this test cannot stand on its own merit and should be thrown out.

Contrary to what some may say, the Opt Out movement was not started by the teacher unions, nor was it, as NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe said, a bunch of high school students who just didn't want to take the test. It is a nation-wide, grass-roots movement started by parents who are concerned about the over emphasis on flawed tests and data that falsely measure their child's education, unfairly evaluate teachers and penalize schools.

Last year, in our state's first PARCC testing year, over 100,000 students refused the test. That number is second only to New York State, which had approximately 200,000 students refuse. Unfortunately, these numbers were compiled by individuals doing a lot of research on the DOE's own website because the department either cannot or will not release the actual numbers. 

Every parent must make their own informed decisions regarding the PARCC and what's best for their child. But, unless parents have access to both sides of the issue, that cannot be done. The bottom line is that school districts cannot force students to take the test. They will not lose funding if your child opts out

For more information about the PARCC and your rights as a parent, visit Save Our Schools NJ and NJ Kids And Families. You can also modify my opt out letter to suit your needs.

* See Recommendation 17

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