Friday, January 30, 2015

My Testimony Before Governor Christie's Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments

As I posted earlier today, last night I attended the second of three Public Testimony Hearings of the NJ Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments. I was hoping to get a video of my testimony, but as fate would have it, my phone ran out of space. After much internal debate, I decided to post the part of my testimony that did get recorded. It at least gives a sense of how fired up and responsive the audience was. This same intensity and involvement was maintained throughout the evening. 

Words can not adequately express what happened in that room last night, so I hope the incomplete video, despite the bad angle, lack of focus and hostile lighting, gives you a sense of the electricity that was in the air.

If the video of the hearing ever becomes available I will post the full 5 minutes, but after witnessing the 6 hours of scathing testimony against the PARCC, it is hard to imagine that video will ever see the light of day. 

Without further ado, here is the testimony I delivered to the Commission.

Good Evening. My name is Darcie Cimarusti. First and foremost, I want to thank you for your time, for your service to the Commission and to the children of our state. I am here today as the mom of twin 3rd grade daughters. I serve as a member of the Highland Park Board of Education, but my testimony today is my own, and does not represent the board.

I currently work for the Network for Public Education, which is a national public education advocacy group founded by education historian, author, and NYU research professor Diane Ravitch.

When I read today’s NJ Spotlight article about the Public Testimony in Jersey City, I was startled by Commissioner Hespe’s statement that he didn’t hear anything he hadn’t expected. He added that no one offered solutions to, and I quote, the “societal problem where half of the students are graduating without the skills and knowledge they need.”

So I’d like to offer suggestions, and tie them to the conversation that is currently happening at the national level. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is holding hearings to discuss the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which is 8 years overdue. Congress has held over 20 hearings on the subject, but has failed to act. With all due respect to the Commissioner, to chastise NJ’s parents and educators for not coming to the table with solutions, when our nation’s elected officials have been unable to agree on a path forward seems disingenuous at best.

Five witnesses testified before the latest hearing of the HELP Committee – a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, a state commissioner and a research director.

Senator Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, asked the witnesses how much they thought testing could be reduced while still holding schools and districts accountable for student achievement. The witnesses, with the exception of the researcher, responded that testing could be reduced 50-60%.

Suggestion 1: Reduce the amount of testing by no less than 50%

Senator Cassidy, a Junior Republican Senator from Louisiana, asked the researcher to list the top two factors impacting student achievement. He answered without hesitation - family income and the education level of the mother or father. He placed the quality of the education the student receives third.

When over 50% of our nation’s school children are mired in poverty, it is hard to swallow the idea that new, improved and wildly expensive standardized tests are the best response to what ails our most vulnerable students. I would submit to the Commissioner that it is more than likely that the 50% of students he claims are graduating without the skills and knowledge they need are closely correlated to the 50% living in poverty. If we truly want to help those students, what they need most is not an expensive, computer based, standardized test.

Suggestion 2: NJ should abandon PARCC

A tremendous amount of the current pushback is caused by the costs districts have incurred to comply with the technological requirements of the PARCC. The recent revelation that the state will pay for-profit behemoth Pearson $108 million over the next four years for the test alone has confirmed suspicions that the state is paying far too much for an unproven product.

The PARCC consortium is dwindling; state after state has abandoned PARCC and returned to their state tests. New Jersey residents wonder what keeps us tethered to what appears to be a sinking ship, steered by the wildly unpopular Pearson.

The money saved by abandoning the PARCC can be spent on services for our most vulnerable students. Let’s hire social workers and reading specialists; let’s reduce class sizes and provide all students with deep, meaningful learning experiences, not more tests and test prep.

As NPE President Diane Ravitch said, “Just say no to annual testing. No other high performing nation does it, and neither should we.”

As long as we continue to disaggregate data based on subgroups, a return to pre NCLB grade span testing, which requires students to be tested once each in Elementary, Middle and High School, can provide state and federal governments all the data they need.

Suggestion 3: The state should advocate at the federal level for a return to grade span testing

I do appreciate the states conundrum. Under NCLB, annual testing is mandated; therefore every state is accountable to the federal government, every district is accountable to the state, every school is accountable to the district, and teachers are accountable to everyone.

But when it comes to educating their children, it’s hard to make an argument that parents are accountable to anyone but themselves. And the vast majority of parents are fed up with the testing that has taken over our schools. This fact was made abundantly clear in the poll released by the NJEA earlier this week. You can try to repackage the tests, rebrand them, and tell us they’re good for us and for our kids, but to be frank, on the whole, parents aren’t buying it anymore.

It is time to actually listen to us.

No one else in this broken system seems to be willing to step back and recognize that the weight of what you call accountability rests squarely on the shoulders of our children and their teachers.

But as parents, we feel it in our bones. We see our children’s teachers and administrators struggling to keep up with ever increasing mandates. We wince as treasured programs are cut from our schools because funds have been siphoned away to pay for the computers and bandwidth needed for the tests.

We see our children lose their love of learning.

Is it any wonder that parents and teachers, Democrats and Republicans, are finally standing up, fighting back, and demanding change?

We’re tired of seeing our children get less for more; less joy, less learning, less creativity -- more stress, more testing, more standardization.

The time has come to reclaim teaching and learning. We are asking for your help to do so, but it seems our pleas are falling on deaf ears. If you fail to help us provide our children with the educational opportunities they deserve, and instead continue to answer only to state and federal demands for accountability, you leave us no choice but to refuse the tests.

Which is exactly what I intend to do for my daughters.

We sat in these very seats for 6 hours. SIX HOURS!


  1. 6 Hours! But that's nothing compared to childbirth. Bring it on DoE.

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