Friday, February 13, 2015

My Testimony On NJ PARCC Refusal Legislation

Below is the written testimony I intended to deliver before yesterday's Assembly Education Committee as they debated Assembly Bill A 4165, which would ensure that districts provide parents the right to opt out of testing without retribution.

Instead of reading what I had prepared, I decided at the last second to go off script and just talk directly to the Committee Members. I don't remember everything I said, but I talked about how the federal demand for accountability, in the form of NCLB mandated annual testing for all children, has placed states (not just NJ) in the direct line of fire with parents. Parents and teachers are tired of the endless testing, pre-testing, benchmarking, and test prep that has taken over our children's schools.

I briefly covered what is written below; that it is the state's failure to act last Spring to delay the high stakes attached to PARCC, that brought us to a place where thousands, if not tens of thousands, of children across the state will be opted out of PARCC in NJ this spring.

And I talked about my own experiences as a mom. Some of that testimony was picked up in an article about the hearing for WHYY's NewsWorks.

Parents who packed an Assembly committee meeting Thursday questioned the need for the test and how the results would be used.
Highland Park resident Darcie Cimarusti was one of those who said she will refuse to allow her children take the tests designed to assess whether students are on track for success in college and career.
One of her twin third-grade daughters is dyslexic, Cimarusti said.
"Why am I going to make her sit down and take a test the state is demanding that's going to tell my little 8-year-old that she's a failure? She's not a failure," Cimarusti said. "She's a little girl that needs help that no one wants to give her.
No matter the fate of A 4165, my girls will not be taking the PARCC. The bill was not voted on yesterday because the NJDOE has raised concerns that if districts fall beneath the 95% participation rate, which is mandated under NCLB, the USDOE will pull Title I funding from districts. Yesterday I posted a guest post by Chris Tienken and Julia Sass Rubin that debunks many of the issues behind this threat. Assemblyman Diegnan also stated he believed the threat was a hollow one, and that he has reached out to US Senator Menendez for clarification. 

I eagerly await Sen. Menendez's response. In the interim, here's my testimony.
Assemblyman Diegnan, you chaired a meeting in a similarly packed room when this Committee heard testimony on Assembly Bill 3081 in May of 2014. The room that day was filled with parents, teachers, board members and administrators, and the vast majority of the testimony – with the exception of NJSBA - spoke in favor of the bill.
As I’m sure the Committee recalls, A 3081 would have delayed the high stakes attached to PARCC for both teachers and students, and would have created an Education Reform Task Force to evaluate PARCC and Common Core. But the bill never reached the Governor’s desk, and instead a “compromise” was struck. The stakes were reduced for teachers, but not for students, and the Governor’s now infamous Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments was formed.
Madison Superintendent Michael Rossi testified at that hearing, and warned the Committee that if the legislature failed to act, then parents would act by refusing the test.
And now here we sit. The room is once again packed, this time mostly with parents, and we are demanding the right to refuse PARCC.
Score 1 for Dr. Rossi.
It is likely that many of the associations and organizations that supported A 3081 then, will not support A 4165 now. But if action had been taken to protect students and teachers from the high stakes attached to these tests, which almost everyone agreed was prudent, we would not be here today.
The burden of these high stakes tests fall squarely on the shoulders of our children, so with all due respect, I ask the Committee to heed the parents today, not those now lobbying to stay the course.
The parents in this room have done their homework. They’re unlikely to buy the tired talking points emanating from the NJDOE and mimicked by others.
They have taken PARCC practice tests. They have testified before the Study Commission. They have delivered public comment before their boards of education. They have written letters to the editor and have been featured in newspaper articles and on TV news segments. They are not “scared of change,” they are not helicopter parents, and they are not looking for trophies for their kids.
And perhaps more importantly, none of them are in this alone. Networks of parents have used social media to connect and strategize. They have united into an army of fierce advocates for their children, and for public education; their numbers are growing exponentially.
I don’t have Dr. Rossi’s crystal ball to tell you what will happen if the legislature fails to act on A 4165, but I can tell you one thing for certain. These parents are not going away.
The passage of this bill is by no means the end of the debate over PARCC, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Allowing parents to refuse PARCC without retribution is nothing more than a common sense stop gap measure, and the price for the state’s failure to act to protect students and teachers from the high stakes attached to PARCC.

As a parent who will refuse PARCC for my daughters, I thank you for your support of A 4165. As a board member, I thank you for your leadership on this issue.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Guest Post: New Jersey Legislators Need to Stand up for Our Children By Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. and Julia Sass Rubin, Ph.D.

The first administration of the experimental new PARCC high-stakes standardized tests is only weeks away and parents are increasingly concerned. Hundreds of families have notified their school districts that their children will not be taking the PARCC tests.  

Approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey school districts have responded by assuring parents who refuse the test that their children will be provided with an alternative location, or at least the ability to read in class, while their classmates take the test.

Other districts, however, have taken a much more punitive approach, threatening to force children as young as eight to remain in the testing room with no other activities except sitting and staring for the two-week duration of the test. Some districts have even threatened students whose parents refuse the test with disciplinary actions.  

In response, parents are asking the New Jersey legislature to intervene and pass A4165/S2767. This legislation requires all districts and charter schools to provide consistent, humane treatment for children whose parents refuse standardized tests.

As growing numbers of legislators indicate their support for A4165/S2767, officials within the New Jersey Department of Education have apparently initiated a campaign to block its passage by claiming that the proposed legislation would cost districts precious dollars. Specifically, the NJDOE is arguing that the US Department of Education would use powers it has under the No Child Left Behind law to cut Title I funding for any schools that fall below 95 percent student participation levels on the PARCC.  

Keep in the mind that the proposed legislation does not direct parents to have their children opt-out or refuse the state mandated tests. The proposed legislation simply asks for a consistent statewide policy of humane treatment for children whose parents choose to refuse the testing. As more school administrators decide to make students needlessly “sit and stare” for two weeks of testing, plus up to two additional weeks of make-up testing, it is imperative that the legislature act to protect children from such treatment. 

So will the US Department of Education take your school's Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law?

The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.

1. There is no federal or state law that requires financial penalties to schools’ Title I funds if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. The intent of that law was to prevent schools from hiding subgroups of students from the accountability structure and was not aimed at preventing parents from refusing to have their children tested.  

However, since 2012, NJ has had a waiver to NCLB that replaces those sanctions with a new accountability system.

Under the waiver, only schools designated “priority” or “focus” schools face direct intervention for missing state targets. New Jersey’s 250 priority and focus schools can have up to 30 percent of their federal Title I funds re-directed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for specific “interventions,” but even these funds are supposed to be used for school improvement, not taken away.  And the NJDOE already has the ability to redirect a part of the Title I allocations received by priority and focus schools.

2. No federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing the 95 percent participation rate.  

And missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level is not unusual in New Jersey. 

According to NJDOE data, last spring, nine schools in seven New Jersey districts had overall schoolwide NJ ASK participation rates below 95 percent; 175 schools in 104 districts had participation rates below 95 percent for at least one of the student subgroups (e.g., special needs, Limited English Proficient, economically disadvantaged, etc.,).1

None of those schools experienced any federal financial repercussions to Title I funds.  In fact, no school has ever lost Title I funds due to punishment by the federal government for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

3. Other states have laws that protect a parent’s right to opt their child out or refuse high-stakes standardized testing and no federal financial penalties of any sort have been imposed on schools in those states as a result of these laws.  

For example, in Wisconsin “Upon the request of a pupil's parent or guardian, the school board shall excuse the pupil from taking an examination administered under sub. (1m).”2 

In California, a “parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided pursuant to Ed Code Section 60640.”3

4. The US Congress is rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal legislation that mandates annual standardized testing. A reauthorized ESEA may completely eliminate the federal interventions that are in the current version of ESEA and is likely to give individual states much more decision-making authority when it comes to accountability and testing mandates.  

So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate. The moral imperative for the NJDOE, the NJ Legislature and for individual school districts should be to act in the best interests of New Jersey children, and that means treating students humanely if their parents choose to participate in the democratic tradition of dissent. 

Christopher Tienken is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University.

Julia Sass Rubin is an Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and one of the founding members of the all-volunteer pro-public education group Save Our Schools NJ.




3 Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75.