There is growing opposition across our state and across the country against the new Common Core standards and PARCC testing that will be administered beginning in March of this year. Child development experts refused to sign off on the Common Core standards and many object to the overly complex test questions on the PARCC that look like a set-up for student failure rather than an accurate measure of learning. Districts such as Bloomfield, Delran and Princeton have formalized opt-out policies for students whose parents object to this testing. Many parents have brought these concerns to the Verona Board of Education and have asked for our own opt-out policy. At the January 6, 2015 meeting Verona BOE President John Quattrocchi agreed with many of these concerns but indicated that providing any kind of opt-out policy in Verona would be a risk not worth taking for our Superintendent or BOE because he stated “we would going through all of that for a test that doesn’t matter.” This year the PARCC test does not count for graduation or student placement but does however factor into a teacher’s evaluation.
In reflecting on that statement I felt it was important express why this test does matter.
The PARCC test matters because Verona schools were not failing before the Common Core and PARCC arrived. Many would say we are failing now. We’re failing students and destroying the trust between administrators, teachers, students and parents. These tests are developmentally inappropriate as are the Common Core standards from which they are based. One does not have to go very far into any of the grade level tests to understand this (try them). These tests are designed to frustrate and fail students. Our children are struggling and parents are stressed trying to support them. I can’t tell you how many parents I have spoken with who have mentioned getting tutors, withdrawing from after school activities or wondering if their child has a learning disability since this complete overhaul of our curriculum began. This matters. Parents all across the state are starting to connect the dots and realize this stress is not caused by a flaw in our children but rather in the inappropriate curriculum and testing.
These tests matter because we have spent massive amounts of money to upgrade our technology, align our curriculum and purchase these tests. Verona recently bought 460 Chromebooks in order to implement this test. Verona taxpayers approved a massive technology upgrade which, while needed, was in large part was to support the PARCC testing mandate.
This test matters because Verona teachers are desperately trying to prepare our children for these tests. The tests WILL factor into a teacher’s evaluation. Our children are being told to do their best and when their best clearly isn’t good enough there are tears, frustration, and cries of, “I don’t want to go to school anymore.” The preparation for the PARCC began the first week of school. Test prep is being graded and counted towards marking period grades. Test prep is infused into every part of our children’s classrooms. Our elementary level children are being drilled on writing five-paragraph essays and dissecting convoluted math word problems rather than doing science experiments, learning social studies, going on field trips or doing any kind of creative writing. Ask your children. Many are now spending their library periods on the computers doing PARCC practice.
This test matters because a tremendous amount of instructional time is lost to the actual PARCC testing. Each school will be testing during both March and May and total “in chair” time will be 13 to 15 hours depending upon grade level.
The tests matter because 3rd graders who have never been taught to type will need to type fully edited essays while being subjected to time limits. These children will have to navigate lengthy texts on a computer with an interface that is neither intuitive nor age appropriate.
This test matters because data will be collected from our children without parental consent. This data will be used to create longitudinal databases that will follow our students throughout their school careers and lives. IEP and 504 information will be sent off with the PARCC tests to Pearson, which created the PARCC and scores it, and presumably any interested third party who requests that information as per the FERPA guidelines.
These tests matter because, in states like Tennessee, personal questions were embedded in PARCC practice tests that none of its administrators, teachers or parents were able to see beforehand or report on afterwards. This information will be forever associated with those children via their assigned personal identification numbers.
These tests matter because the trust between a student and teacher will be lost when that child raises his or her during the PARCC test and asks that teacher for assistance and the teacher CANNOT provide that help as per the testing guidelines. That trust may never be regained.
These tests matter because everything in school is now geared towards one learning style. Children with learning differences or children who think outside-the-box have been made to feel like they no longer have a chance at succeeding in our schools.
These test do matter to the citizens of Verona. They matter!
At the Febuary 3, 2015 meeting the Verona Board of Education informed us that if a parent refuses to allow their child to take the PARCC that child will be allowed to read a book but will likely have to sit at a computer in the testing room. There will be no penalties for a student who refuses the PARCC and the PARCC will not count for placement in any Verona schools. The BOE feels that providing alternative educational environments will violate directives from the State Board of Education.
I encourage everyone to educate themselves on these issues and get involved. If you’re interested you can join us on Facebook at Verona Cares About Schools.
Beth O’Donnell-Fischer is a Verona parent and a co-founder of Verona Cares About Schools.