Wednesday, May 6, 2015

NJ Mom To The Leadership Conference: Let's Talk About Testing

The guest post below by Julie Larrea Borst needs little introduction, as the author of the letter tells us everything we need to know about why she is so passionate about the testing revolt currently captivating the nation. I will tell you though that Julie recently helped pen an opinion piece for NJ Spotlight, and she also wrote a guest post for this blog two years ago when she opted her daughter out of the NJASK. It is called Why On Earth Does My Daughter Have To Take This Test, and it's a heart wrenching reminder of how inappropriate standardized tests truly are for many disabled children, not just Julie's. 

A little background on what got Julie riled up enough to write the letter I have posted below. Earlier today The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released a statement titled Civil Rights Groups: “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”. 

And Julie is not alone in feeling the need to respond to this statement. The Leadership Conference statement also elicited a response from Jesse Hagopian and the Network for Public Education challenging the notion that standardized testing is the correct path to educational equity. Here's a snippet:
Yet we know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.  This fact has been amply demonstrated through the experience of the past thirteen years of NCLB’s mandate of national testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. The outcomes of the NCLB policy shows that test score achievement gaps between African American and white students have only increased, not decreased. If the point of the testing is to highlight inequality and fix it, so far it has only increased inequality.
You can read the entire statement here, and the press release here

Without further ado, here is the bold letter to The Leadership Conference's President and CEO, Wade Henderson, written by Allendale, NJ parent Julie Larrea Borst.


5 May 2015
Wade Henderson, Esq.
President and CEO
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
1629 K Street NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. Henderson, 
 I very rarely take the time to respond to press releases by organizations such as yours. However, the release dated today, 5th May, has left me wondering who exactly you’re representing, because it certainly is not me or my disabled daughter. 
 Please allow me to explain why the current testing, and its abysmal 14-year track record, are not in the best interests of students with disabilities (SWD), for persons of colors, or those who are economically disadvantaged. 
As a parent and a parent advocate, I am in a position to see, on the ground, how the effects of NCLB, and now the implementation of Bill Gates’ vision of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the accompanying tests, have grossly underserved those The Leadership Conference represents. 
It’s easy to understand the draw of the notion that a student’s progress or a teacher’s effectiveness can be quantified. I have a corporate background. I get it. But, this is people we are talking about, and more specifically, people who for whatever reason have challenges that deserve much more than the idea that a test score will help them overcome those challenges. 
NCLB did not close achievement gaps. It did not lead to better and innovative curriculum. It did not improve US scores on PISA. 
What NCLB did do is create a really clear map of where the deepest pockets of poverty are in this country. It did demonstrate that attaching “high stakes” (someone’s profession, their livelihood) to a number made for a narrowing of curriculum as everyone was forced to teach to a test. Race to the Top is that program on steroids. 
For the last 14 years, tax-payer money has been going to support a program that is not focused on raising up students, no matter what their situation. Special education, as I have lived it, in some of the wealthiest areas of this country, has been cut short by the insipid notion that having “higher expectations” and doing well on a test that takes none of my daughter’s disabilities into account, will somehow, magically produce better students, now called “college and career ready.” Anyone with the most basic background or exposure to SWD’s knows this is not true. We also know that all the money spent on testing and on remediation because a single test reported that students are “failing,” has resulted in desperately needed funding not reaching the populations most in need – students with disabilities, students of color, and students who are economically disadvantaged. 
Those scoring low on tests were labeled “failing” and punished with the loss of funds! Those “failing” scores translated into “failing schools” that were then closed and/or sold off to charter school companies. Imagine the very heart of your neighborhood being cut out. The effects are devastating – on the fired teachers, on the displaced school children, on loss of neighborhoods. This method is called “test and punish.” 
Now, with the onset of CCSS testing -- here in New Jersey it is PARCC -- we have had to deal not only with the complete overhaul of CCSS-aligned curriculum, but also with whatever districts have had to purchase in order to administer this fully online test – infrastructure, hardware (laptops, tablets, etc.), new technology staff to manage all of this, professional development to administer the test, and so on. Districts, already strapped for money, have still had to find it somewhere. There has been no accountability for the money spent on CCSS or the testing. Do you think special ed programs didn’t suffer because of this? Do you think in areas with poverty that money could not have been spent on more meaningful things such as - textbooks, art supplies, and afterschool programs? What exactly was wrong with the grade span testing pre-NCLB? And why are you not advocating alternative assessments, such as NYC’s Performance Standards Consortium, which allow students like my daughter to show what they can do rather than simply fail a standardized test. 
It is disheartening to hear organizations like yours, and the ones that comprise your membership, speak out against the one action that has actually gotten attention after years of parents being ignored. It is astonishing that your civil rights group doesn’t recognize civil disobedience when you see it, and what’s more, you condemn it! 
Please, I implore you, take the time to understand what these standardized tests provide in terms of usable data. Receiving a “not proficient at grade level” designation is not even remotely helpful, especially when true diagnostic tests are available. Speak to parents. Speak to teachers. 
I would be happy to have a discussion with you about testing, about special education, and how organizations like yours can help those of us living through this morass called public education. 
Sincerely,

Julie Larrea Borst


6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. As a parent who refused the PARCC for two children, I couldn't agree more.

    The Leadership Council's view of high stakes testing is puzzling, especially as you point out, the claim that test data is needed to ensure equitable distribution of funds could be met through grade span or even NAEP testing.

    When I look at National and some State level organizations supposedly representing parent and student interests, I see a huge disconnect with what is happening on the ground. These organizations are going to have be informed from the grass roots by people like Julie Larrea Borst, their local divisions and groups like NPE.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Julie for bringing this post to my attention via email. Also check out Who's the William Wallace of testing: @JessedHagopian or Liz King?: http://wp.me/p2D92I-2yK via @ProfessorJVH

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  3. Julian, I saw! And thank you for your response to that awful press release.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would like to reach out to parents of children with disabilities to inform them about Special Needs Expo New Jersey on September 27. I thought the two of you might be interested, but I don't know how to contact you with more information. I don't want to spam your blog either with my information, so please help.

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