James A. Crisfield, superintendent of one of New Jersey’s highest-performing districts, Millburn Public Schools, has an editorial today in NJ Spotlight that makes a reasonable and nuanced argument against the anti-testing crowd. Says Crisfield, “the opt-out movement has to stop. It is just not a practical or viable approach to public education.”
Here’s one section of Crisfield’s discussion:
I do understand the concerns people have with the PARCC tests, and I in fact share some of them. I feel the PARCC tests as currently configured take too much time to administer, and I strongly object to how they are used to compare districts (or schools) to one another. And worse yet, very few educators, anywhere, will agree with the notion that standardized test results are either a valid or a reliable way to evaluate teachers.
Having said that, assessment is a natural and necessary component of the education process. Great teachers deploy assessment techniques all the time to help shed light on both their students’ needs and the efficacy of their teaching. PARCC results, we are told and we hope, will provide us with valuable insights into our students’ needs and how we can meet them, so I am willing to give PARCC the benefit of the doubt to see if that promise will be fulfilled. After all, it’s not like we haven’t had standardized testing for, well, decades (if by a different name — Iowa, Early Warning Test, NJASK, and the like).
What distinguishes PARCC from these prior versions, among other things, is the highly charged political climate of 2015. It seems as if everything now needs to be viewed (and acted upon) through a political lens. PARCC is linked to the Common Core, which in turn elicits angry, visceral reactions from several different quarters. And we then start down the road of letting politics interfere with the educational process. Politics, especially the partisan variety, has no place in the classroom and can in fact be quite distracting.
The comment section is as illuminating as the editorial itself. There, opt-out fans present the tired and mythic charges against PARCC: its link to Bill Gates (who, with his wife Melinda, ranks as the second-most generous philanthropist in America); its link to Pearson (which has sold tests and textbooks to American schools forever); potential infringement of local control (as if school districts haven’t administered state standardized tests for decades); ”distortions to the way we educate children” (which is fine if you can buy your way into Millburn schools and not so fine if you can only afford housing in Camden, Newark, or Trenton); data-mining (not happening); and the perceived time-suck of PARCC compared to familiar tests like ASK and HSPA (which are widely-acknowledged to be inadequate and also created tension and time burdens when they debuted twelve years ago).
Remember, we’re arguing about standards that have been in place for five years and assessments that haven’t even been given yet. Can we wait two weeks before passing judgement?
Also in the comments section, Anne Clark, who never takes fools lightly, has her own responses to anti-testers. She notes that there was plenty of opportunity for public comment during the adoption of Common Core and PARCC, that instructional time devoted to PARCC tests is de minimus compared to traditional testing schedules, and that the movement towards uniform standards and assessments has always been bipartisan. She’s also not afraid to call out Save Our Schools-NJ, one of the primary instigators of N.J.’s hysteria:
That said, the anti-CCSS/PARCC arguments never seem to identify specifics. SOSNJ had a “supposed” PARCC sample math problem on their facebook page that had a bunch of typos. If they had only bothered to google the first sentence of the problem, they would have found the correctly worded, real sample problem – not one supplied by a teen from an unidentified school. But instead, they fostered outrage among parents for what our kids were going to have to deal with, until they finally relented and took down the whole thread.