Category Archives: Opt Out-Refuse the Tests

Parent testimony to State Board of Education in Trenton, NJ

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Dear Readers,

Almost 100 people gave testimony against the PARCC in Trenton on 1/7/15.

Here’s one outstanding piece. We hope you’ll read it and will share with others.

Thank you!

Montclair Voices


 

1/7/15 Written Testimony of Christine McGoey
before SBOE Members Lepore and Fornaro

Thank you State Board of Education Members Lepore and Fornaro for hearing my public testimony.

I think public testimony is very important because it injects reality into what is happening to children and education in our schools today. The Common Core Standards, linked to PARCC testing, that would generate supposedly necessary data, were presented to us by our district and our state and federal governments as a seamless package for how to create better education.

I am here to say that in practice those theories are detrimental to our children and our schools and are hurting education.

In my experience, the standards are largely developmentally inappropriate, teaching to the PARCC is narrowing the curriculum, and together they are draining resources for tech, testing and CCSS curriculum from our school budgets that could be better used in the classroom. School has changed dramatically for the worse in the two short years since CCSS and PARCC preparedness has been in place.

I am the parent of two public school children in Montclair, NJ. I have been an active volunteer in our schools, devoting many hours on numerous projects over the years for the PTA and on family and community engagement.  During the past holidays I participated in organizing the Thanksgiving Multi Cultural Feast, ran the Snowflake Village, made fudge for the the Holiday Sing. I have baked countless cupcakes, served breakfasts and raised funds. I don’t speak for any organization here, but I believe that my close involvement has given me a real understanding of our schools, kids and parents.

My children are 6 years apart. I have a tenth grader and a fifth grader. My younger child is currently attending the same elementary school his older sibling attended, with many of the same excellent teachers and a great Principal–all doing their best.  But he is not benefiting from the same great kind of education his older brother received.

His older brother experienced a curriculum that advanced kids in ways that fit them. Now, CCSS and PARCC require kids to think like mini-adults to be advanced.

I do not intend to argue the merits of CCSS here, but to give you a flavor for what I mean, my older child received a solid elementary school foundation in basic math skills like math facts, multiplication and division, that quickly created automaticity and allowed him to pursue higher math concepts as he got older.

Montclair parent, Christine McGoey gives her testimony to State Board of Ed. Trenton, NJ, 1/7/2015

Montclair parent, Christine McGoey gives her testimony to State Board of Ed. Trenton, NJ, 01/07/2015

Last year, instead of solidifying basic math facts, CCSS had my younger son’s class devoting months to developing skills in things like writing equations without solving them, and a multi-stepped, unhelpful process for division called “area modeling” so misaligned with the way children think that the entire class spent hours on math homework every evening. The effort required of younger children to learn these alternate skills, clearly not keyed to their developmental levels, took up the time normally invested in actually learning division or practicing to automaticity in multiplication. CCSS sent a class of fourth graders on to fifth with destabilized math skills. We had to do those things at home.

In language arts, reading levels have been ratcheted up with no underlying research–only the conviction by CCSS writers that if you make it harder kids will have to be smarter. At one of our BOE meetings last year our then curriculum director explained how kindergarten reading levels had been arbitrarily boosted by CCSS, and how the district believed these were too high, so they had split the difference and only raised them half way–as if this were a better approach. (Elementary school reading levels now reach up into former middle school levels and kids and schools are accountable for skill levels way above their ages regardless of developmental readiness.)

My older son had a rich and full social studies curriculum in elementary school. This year I would say my younger son has had next to none, no projects and only one test after reading a few chapters. My younger son has not mentioned social studies and I have seen no social studies work for months. At back to school night, one of his teachers informed us that given the amount of material CCSS required them to cover in math and language arts, the children would unfortunately be doing less social studies.

To date, our district of 6,700 students has spent something close to 2.1 million dollars on tech upgrades and computer equipment related to PARCC. Our Superintendent is now saying that given these expenditures our district faces “hard choices” in this upcoming budget cycle.

Money that could be used in the classroom, is pouring out of the budget into the hands of tech and testing and CCSS curriculum companies.

My children, husband and I took the PARCC practice tests at a community event with about a hundred other people. My husband and I both have  a number of higher degrees, but we could not answer many of the questions.  The test was poorly written, missing context, not giving clear choices.The fifth grade test contained multiple operations in each math question and was much too complex. The technology piece was daunting. We could not imagine how even reasonably prepared children could do well on such a test.

(Here is a link to a letter I wrote about taking the PARCC. http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-letters-to-the-editor/montclair-letter-by-christina-mcgoey-taking-parcc-is-an-eye-opener-1.1133836)

The test seems rigged for failure.

In fact, in NY and other states where CCSS tests have been given, the cut scores alone have done exactly that. NY failed 70%. The SBAC, the other consortium test, is set to be administered with a cut rate that will fail up to 68% of kids in math and 62% in language arts (The rate fluctuates with grade. The full scoring system is set out here:  http://www.smarterbalanced.org/news/smarter-balanced-states-approve-achievement-level-recommendations/) Commissioner Hespe will not announce the cut scores for NJ, claiming they have not been set yet with the PARCC consortium and that this will happen in the summer–after the tests have been taken. But if these tests are to compare apples to apples as we have been told, how can the NJ cut scores be any better?

And if the test is designed for failure, then the data stream that is generated by the PARCC and follows and judges our children through the longitudinal data system set in place, is designed to label them with failure.

And the rating of teachers, principals and schools tied to test data, is designed for failure.

Instead of seeing the seamless package for good education we had been promised CCSS and PARCC would provide, we now see each separate piece as not only ill conceived and faulty, but as harmful.

We know through experience that the standards are both developmentally inappropriate and failing to provide a good, foundational education.

We know that ratcheting up the level of work is not teaching, merely piling it on and creating stress without purpose.

The emphasis on meeting all the CCSS criteria that will be PARCC tested are wiping out valuable areas of study like social studies.

The test is designed for failure. The data that will rank and sort and follow our children and invade their privacy is set not for success, but for widespread, purposeful failure.

As parents we are dismayed and disillusioned.

We feel our government and Departments of Education at Federal, State and Local levels have let us down and are following a course harmful to our children’s education and dangerous to public education as an institution.

We have brought our concerns to our local BOE and Superintendent, only to be told we must appeal to the State BOE.

We supported bill A3081 that would have allowed for a full and complete examination of CCSS and high stakes PARCC testing and felt this bill shouId have been brought to a vote in the Senate.

I am here today to tell you that as a matter of protest, our children will not be taking the PARCC.

And we are so concerned about education that we have decided we will not vote for any candidates who mindlessly support PARCC or CCSS.

We ask the SBOE to exercise its power to reexamine PARCC and CCSS, to hold full hearings on these topics with wide public input,  and to pass a statewide test refusal/ opt out policy.

Thank you.

Christine McGoey
Montclair, NJ

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Testimony in Trenton against PARCC: Parent, teacher and student power

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Dear Readers,

The turnout at the open testimony in Trenton, NJ yesterday was terrific!

Here’s a round up of a few articles, blog posts, and written and videotaped testimony that we’ve collected. You may also see more on the Montclair Cares About Schools or Save Our Schools New Jersey Facebook pages or via Montclair Education Matters blog.

Bloggers:

Sarah Tepper Blaine, Montclair parent
http://parentingthecore.com/2015/01/07/speaking-truth-and-democracy-to-new-jersey-state-board-of-education/

Colleen Daly Martinez, Montclair parent
http://whattodowiththekidsinmontclairnj.blogspot.com/2015/01/my-1715-testimony-at-nj-board-of.html?m=1

Marie Corfield
http://mcorfield.blogspot.com/2015/01/qotd-nj-boe-president-drops-bombshell.html

Students testimony:

Testimony from 10 year old:

And 2nd grade student Saige Price:

Press:

NJ105.com
http://nj1015.com/debate-over-new-jerseys-parcc-test/

NJ.com
http://www.nj.com/education/2015/01/parcc_exams_blasted_by_parents_teacher_students_at_open_forum.html#incart_river

NJ Spotlight
http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/01/07/anti-testing-turnout-puts-state-board-of-education-to-the-test/

Special Ed. parents, take note:

Testimony at Trenton yesterday from Allendale, NJ parent, Julie Larrea Borst:

It was a really good day at the State Board of Ed meeting. Some very good testimony provided by teachers, admins, students, and parents. Here’s mine:

7 January 2015
Good afternoon, my name is Julie Borst. I am a resident of Allendale and the parent of a special needs student who is currently a sophomore in an out of district placement at Pascack Hills HS in Montvale.
I am co-founder of Allendale Parents of Children with Special Needs; an organizer for both Save Our Schools-NJ and United Opt Out-NJ; a member of Ridgewood Cares About Schools; and a member of New Jersey BATs. My comments today are my own.
I am here to discuss the impact of standardized testing on students with disabilities. With the recent announcement of the PARCC exams as a graduation requirement, NJDOE and NJBOE have a responsibility to our most vulnerable students to provide an alternate path to graduation. The choice between PARCC, SAT and ACT is not an actual choice for students who are not performing at or even near grade level.
The continued mincing of words, “there is no ‘opt out’ available in NJ” is causing confusion for parents who are new to this process; and the statement is misleading. While the proper language is “refuse,” no parent should have to be faced with understanding that nuance. When a parent chooses to exercise their 14th Amendment rights, districts, NJDOE, and NJBOE should be supporting that decision, not having a play with words.
I urge you all to consider the “appropriateness” of standardized testing for these students. Is it appropriate to subject a student who educationally operates at a 5th grade level to 10th grade test? If that question was asked about a 5th grade student being required to take a 10th grade test, everyone would laugh and say it’s unthinkable. It’s absurd to even consider it. So why is that same logic not applied to our most vulnerable students?
I won’t even get into the absurdity of the “PARCC Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: (which states) Because a student’s disability may affect how well he or she does on the test, accommodations can be used to overcome or cancel the
effects of the disability…” It’s statements like this that make it impossible to take PARCC seriously.
Now, let’s presume there is no way out for SWDs taking PARCC in order to get a diploma. Then what? As a parent, my goal is to get my daughter as prepared as possible to enter the adult world as a functioning member of society. No standardized test going to help her become that person. Especially if there is no way for her to earn a diploma, the bare minimum needed to obtain a job.
There must be alternatives for PARCC and for graduation requirements. They must be offered in a timely and concise manner as this now affects this year’s juniors. Any alternatives, like portfolios, must be done in such a way as to not overtax teachers’ time. As of January 6, 2015, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no guidance for Special Services Teams on portfolios. We’re already four months into this school year and this is unacceptable.
There must be guidance on these issues and soon.
Thank you for your time.


 

This opinion piece (not part of Trenton testimony) on why the “reforms” are so hurtful:
http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/01/njs_education_reforms_are_more_hurtful_than_helpful_opinion.html#incart_river

Lastly, here’s a list of 12 reasons to oppose the PARCC from SOSNJ and which was published just before Christmas.

That’s it for now.

Stay warm, everyone!

All of us at Montclair Voices

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What people are saying about the PARCC and high stakes testing

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Dear Readers,

It’s going to take a while to unpack last night’s Board of Ed. meeting which didn’t end until well past midnight.

While we try to do that, bake, light candles, wrap gifts, cuddle with our kids, clean up spilled stuff, and play with kittens, we’ve got this:

A letter from a parent to the BOE, a ten  year old’s compelling and heartfelt comments at the meeting, a short animated film about what testing can feel like for a child, and an article written by  a teacher in Chicago that includes many points that hit home here in Montclair, NJ.


Letter sent to Board of Ed. members by email prior to BOE meeting on 12/15/2014:

Dear  Mr. Deutsch, Ms. Mernin, and all Members of the BOE,

I was a regular at Board meetings in spring 2013 through the end of February 2014. Since then, I have not been able to attend. As I’m unable to be there yet again tonight, I’m writing to express my support for the resolution scheduled for your vote this evening.

I respectfully urge all MBOE members to please vote YES for the
humane parental refusal resolution that
would not be punitive and will not include “sit and stare” policies.

My second grader is not yet subject to the PARCC exam,
but he and his classmates are already experiencing (for the second year
in a row) a narrowing of the curriculum and a loss of magnet richness,
increased stress,  and confusion for parents, children, and teachers.

There’s a hyper focus on math, writing, ELA, and a lot of worksheets and tests,
mostly created by Pearson.
Many of these (especially) math worksheets are developmentally inappropriate
and too wordy and confusing.

There’s barely time for art, music, social studies, science, library, and Spanish.
Our children need a much more engaging learning experience.
They need to play, experiment, and explore with hands on, project- based learning.

That once well known, progressive school district our family moved to Montclair
for appears to be disappearing. Authentic teaching and learning cannot be achieved by high stakes testing, PARCC prep, mini PARCCS, tests to practice for the PARCC or endless worksheets.

The joy has been gone from our schools now for almost two full years.
It’s time to bring it back. And in the meantime, it’s time to say YES to
a resolution that will allow parents to opt out/refuse the PARCC or any other standardized testing
that does nothing but sort and separate our children, informs us what socio economic background they might be from, and which does nothing to teach
them but turns them into people  following
test directions, filling in the bubbles–instead of blowing them.

The current landscape is rough for many of us who have children
with special needs in the system. They’re among the first to be hurt by these
changes, by high stakes testing, by standardization, by “rigor”, “college and career ready” data driven reforms.

I see the mind numbing worksheets. Wasting our children’s brains and imaginations on useless, stressful, busy work; lessons that serve Pearson, perhaps, but not our children.

Thank you for your consideration and your YES vote for a humane policy
for MPS.

Next, please consider a humane, educationally sound, progressive strategic plan for our district
instead of the race to nowhere and the many children being left behind plan that is currently in place.

Sincerely,

Elana Halberstadt


 

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Why is it we can’t we have our children run the BOE? 

A very smart and brave 10 year old student, Elizabeth Blaine spoke up against the PARCC at the BOE meeting.

Here’s what she had to say via The Washington Post:

And video, too.

http://youtu.be/m0hTl638Exg


 

Once again, we heard many teachers speak out at the BOE meeting. Visit Montclair Education Matters blog for more  local teacher voices.

Here a teacher from Chicago writes about PARCC damage. And, yes, it is relevant to New Jersey:

An excerpt via Diane Ravitch blog:

Katie Osgood, who teaches in Chicago, describes what the Common Core and PARCC have done to her classroom. Whatever the children read is decontextualized, lifeless, bare of interest, skill-based.

They are engaged in “close reading,” following David Coleman’s ideology.

She writes:

My school is drowning under the ridiculous Common Core Standards. Everything I know to do to inspire my students is forbidden. Instead, we are forced to deliver truly horrible curriculum in developmentally inappropriate ways with pacing charts that move so fast all our heads are spinning. My students with special needs are shutting down, acting out, or just giving up entirely. Sometimes I hear them whisper, “I hate school”. And they are right to think that. All the teachers are upset. And every time we ask “Why? Why are you making us do this?” the answer is always the same. PARCC is coming….


 

A lovely short-short film, The Testing Camera by Peter H. Reynolds:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PABNMIG5VJc&app=desktop


 

Happy Chanuka to all celebrating!

Warmest wishes from the team at Montclair Voices

 

BOE Meeting 12/15/14: Advocacy makes a difference

MBOE humane opt out policy up for a vote this evening at MBOE meeting 12/15/14

MBOE humane opt out policy up for a vote this evening at MBOE meeting 12/15/14

Dear Readers,

So much has been going on! It’s a hard time of year to keep up with all the notices, emails and with the holiday swirl, its no wonder so many of us are strapped for time.

But every voice raised for our children matters. Every email, letter, blog post, or conversation we have about the issues facing our schools, our children, and our teachers–brings us one step closer to creating change in our community.

So, it’s up to us, parents. It really is up to us to stand up and be heard. And when we can see the positive results of our actions, as you’ll read below, we know there is strength in numbers.  Every single one of you that steps up to the mic at a BOE meeting, or sends an email, or shares a post on Facebook, or does a bit of research and shares it with a friend  — is part of a collective —PARENT POWER!

Parent advocacy has made a difference. If you have a few minutes, we hope you’ll read this latest MCAS News alert published yesterday, 12/14/14 via email and also on the MCAS Facebook page:


 

MCAS News alert: Opt-out policy for PARCC before Board of Ed. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014:

Dear friends,

Your advocacy has made a difference.

The Board of Education will tomorrow, Dec. 15, vote on a “Parental Refusal of Standardized Testing Policy.”

The fact that the board has put this on the agenda is entirely due to your making your concerns heard at board meetings and through other communications.

Now it is important that the board pass this resolution.

Please come to express your support. The board needs to hear from parents! 

Where: MHS Auditorium, entrance on Park Street
When: Monday night, Dec. 15. Public meeting begins at 7:30 pm, speakers sign-up available at 6:30 pm
What to do: You can sign in before the meeting to speak. Just come to show support for the resolution. Bring a friend. Forward this email to other parents.

The Parental Refusal resolution states that:

“[S]ome parents may choose to have their children decline to take one or more of [the PARCCs].
“[T]he policy of the MBOE is that the parental decision to decline testing should be met at the district level with educationally appropriate and non-punitive responses.”

The proposed resolution directs the Superintendent to “establish a procedure in accordance with this Policy.”

This is important because it would mean that parents who decline to have their children take the PARCC would not have to worry that their children would be forced to “sit and stare” during testing times. Instead, the district would respond in an “educationally appropriate and non-punitive” way, such as by having the children engage in productive alternative activities in another room.

Other school boards have passed parental refusal resolutions, including those in Bloomfield and Delran, with parents in communities across the state calling for similar measures.
The PARCC is a brand new test, and Montclair Public Schools need a consistent, clear policy that addresses what students who refuse the test will do while the test is being administered. Parents have been asking for months for a humane policy. Come lend your voice in support of this important resolution Monday night at the MHS auditorium.

Why are so many Montclair and New Jersey parents considering refusing the PARCC tests for their children?

They are concerned about:

  • Developmental inappropriateness — many test items include content and or require skills that are beyond that grade level
  • Testing overkill — long sessions spread over two testing windows each year, one 3-week window in March, one 2-week window in April – May. This is more testing hours for children and high schoolers than needed for college grads for the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
  • Narrowing of curriculum to tested topics
  • Loss of class time for curriculum in other non-tested subjects
  • Mandated data tracking of children in the state and nationwide
  • Defining children and their futures by test scores and other aggregated data that could follow them through life
  • Ranking and sorting of children, schools, educators, and then applying a wide range of sanctions for low scores, including potential loss of teachers, principals, programs, schools and privatization
  • The potential for the setting of unrealistic and punishing cut (passing) scores such as has occurred in other states where failure rates on new tests have been as high as 70 percent. The NJ Department of Education will set the cut or passing scores next year after students have taken the tests, raising concerns that they will set the cut score at a level to produce whatever passing or failure rate they want.
  • The squandering of billions of dollars of education funds in New Jersey and nationally to computerized testing.

Judge the test for yourself.
You can take a sample PARCC on this site: http://www.parcconline.org/practice-tests

For a deeper discussion of these issues, please visit Montclair Cares About Schools on Facebook.
A copy of the resolution can be viewed on MCAS Facebook, or at http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPageFiles/44/141215.pdf. The resolution is on page 43 of the PDF.

Thank you.


And, for an in depth look at the PARCC exams, check out Montclair Education Matters post, “Dissecting the PARCC Propaganda.”


 

Many of us will be at the BOE meeting  tonight and we hope to see you there!

If you like this blog, please share it with a friend or neighbor. The movement is growing every day. Thanks for doing what you do.

Stay warm and well,

All of us at Montclair Voices

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All in the PARCC Family: On presentations and transparency

Dear Readers,

We received this from a district parent who attended the PARCC Family Presentation at the George Inness Annex of MHS on 11/13/2014:

Gail Clarke, who led the PARCC Family Presentation, mentioned that the PARCC has been field-tested around the state and that the results were excellent.  What she didn’t mention was that the results of these field tests were not released to the public – so we’ll just have to take her word that they were a success.  The same way that we’ll have to take her word that, as she stated, teachers “won’t be teaching to the test” or filling up valuable class time with test prep (which, as we’re learning, is simply not true).

One of the slides in her presentation listed info about how the PARCC results will be used.  Two of the ways in which they’ll be used were especially interesting:

  • To assist teachers in supporting students
  • To inform parents and students on progress towards “on track” college and career readiness

The first point makes no sense, since as Clarke stated, scores from the March and May tests won’t be shared with students/parents until September or October.  How then can teachers “assist” and “support” their former students, who will be learning all new material in their next grade level?  Also, it’s tough for teachers to “assist” and “support” students when they don’t have their students’ specific test results to refer to, since from what we’re learning, specific question-by-question PARCC results won’t be made available to teachers.

The second point is so vague and general, it’s laughable – and so perverse, it’s sickening.  Which colleges in particular are being referenced, and which careers?  And are we to believe we should be using the PARCC results to measure whether children in elementary and middle school – and even the first and second years of high school – are on a path that, unless corrected, will lead to lifelong failure and humiliation if their scores aren’t high enough?

To top off the non-transparent farce that was this presentation, questions needed to be pre-submitted by attendees.  Those that were selected for answering were chosen based on whether they were critical of the PARCC, Central Office, the Board of Ed, or the NJDOE (or as Clarke said, “political”).  If they were, they weren’t answered.

All in all, the presentation achieved Clarke’s goal of perpetrating the dishonesty of the NJDOE as well as silencing honest discussion from concerned parents about the PARCC.

P.S.  Speaking of dishonesty and non-transparency, Clarke said that the PARCC would be downloaded when administered to students in order to avoid problems with online interruptions or connectivity difficulties.  I learned from teachers that Clarke told them that the test would be administered live on the Internet.  And Central Office wonders why they have a credibility problem.


For another parent’s thoughts on yet another PARCC Family Presentation, head on over to Sarah Tepper Blaine’s blog parentingthecore, or click here for her post.

This statement made by a teacher at the 11/17/2014 meeting and posted via Montclair Education Matters, offers an additional perspective.

An excerpt:

Finally, concerning the PAARC standardized exams and the Core Curriculum Standards, I would like to quote Dr. Chris Tienken, Assoc. Prof. at Seton Hall University and co-author of ‘The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth and Lies,’ who spoke recently at a Montclair Cares for Schools forum and said: “All these standardized reforms… rest on pillars of sand.” He further added that ‘one-size-fits-all curriculum standards’ seeks to homogenize education. “Local school boards have been reduced to state adopted polices.” And he added, “Testing is not learning. Test preparation is not teaching.”

The video of Dr. Chris Tienken’s remarks was posted on Montclair Cares About Schools’ Facebook page.


JLhappy

As we get ready for holidays,
we’re thankful: to you (for reading and sharing).
Thankful for brave parents and teachers who send us stories (keep ‘em coming).
Thankful to every one who speaks up and works for democracy and justice here and everywhere.

Warmest wishes,

All of us at Montclair Voices

 

The Story Behind Those Now – Vanished Budget Surpluses

****UPDATED AND EXPANDED

Dear Readers,

Below is an expanded version of comments on the budget audit made by district parent, Christine McGoey at the Montclair Board of Education meeting on Monday, November 17, 2014:

The Story Behind Those Now-Vanished Budget Surpluses

If you are a parent like me, you might have thought that the large, reported school budget “surpluses” in past years represented extra money we just didn’t need for our schools.

But that is not the case. Those surpluses you have been hearing about fall into a category called “Excess Surplus.”

As auditor Raymond Sarinelli from Nisivoccia, LLP has explained in the past, it is “Excess” because under state law, school districts are only allowed to carry a modest surplus capped at 2 percent of their budgets. The 2 percent amount is referred to as “Unassigned Fund Balance.”

In my house we call that rainy day money. Any funds in excess of the 2 percent cap are required to be used for tax relief in future years.

You can read more about that here.

Excess Surpluses are signs of an improperly constructed budget. According to Sarinelli who presented the Annual Budget Audit at the November, 17 2014 BOE meeting, the BOE had been working on leveling out the budget. The BOE had a “goal” to get away from the past “fund balance spike” that had “gone over the top” and to get to a “glide path.”

The goal in school budgeting is to have close to zero Excess Surplus, and maintain appropriate “Fund Balance Amounts.”  In simple parent translation, the goal of the BOE budget should be to spend money allocated for schools on school expenses, and shoot for a rainy day fund that does not exceed the 2% cap.

Out in the audience, I was looking at the “Excess Surpluses” the auditor was highlighting.

In June of 2012, Excess Surplus was $4.7 million.

In June of 2013, the Excess surplus hit $3.2 million.

In June of 2014, it was $2.2 million.  By June 2015, it will be zero.

According to prior Nisivocca audits, these Excess Surpluses had come down from a high or “spike” of $13.9 million surplus for school year 2011-12.

This spike was preceded by an $11 million surplus in 2010-11, the school year in which the BOE considered school closures, fearing a “budget crisis” that did not materialize.

These weren’t monies the schools and children did not need, but monies the sitting BOEs withheld and chose not to use.

You might remember that those were the years during which our children’s schools lost over a hundred experienced teachers, paraprofessionals in classrooms, guidance and support personnel, Writer’s Room, world language, and elementary instrumental music, to name a few things I recall. Those were the days in which support for our younger children’s education became dramatically different than that provided to children in prior years–and still is.

And while it is true that under the advice of auditors, the BOEs have slowly decreased Excess Surplus through some phased in spending and forward budget allocation, it is also true that millions have been lost to our schools.

Meanwhilethe rainy day Unassigned Fund Balances presented were as follows:

In 2012, $2.8 million. In 2013, $2.2 million. But in 2014, only $779,641.

Sarinelli pointed out that last year’s budget created a “dip,” and now he said the budget needs to reach a “glide” path, avoiding spikes and dips and getting to “horizontal.”

So how did we get to a dip?

The budget created last year spent all income from revenues, plus the Excess Surplus, plus $1.4 million of the rainy day money, and taxes were raised 4.1%.

Where did the money go?

A significant amount went to PARCC testing and CCSS gear up.

It’s hard to tell how much, because those expenses are spread throughout the budget, in everything from material purchases and professional development, evaluation costs, hardware and software purchases, wiring, and maintenance.

The district has glossed over PARCC spending saying that tech updates were needed anyway, and a complete plan for tech spending related to the PARCC was never presented at budget meetings, although the public and certain BOE members requested it.

During the budget process, Brian Fleischer said Montclair needed upwards of $1 million for technology upgrades, but did not separate out the PARCC related costs.

Fleischer spoke about a $500,000 overhaul of the district’s network to the Board of School Estimate. He admitted the plan for purchasing devices was still developing, that the district owned devices sufficient for PARCC, but expressed a preference for purchasing better devices.

Well after the budget had passed in August, the new district technology director Barry Haines described a three-year tech plan to the Montclair Times, including the purchase of 1,000 Chromebooks and staff computers, among other things.

At the BOE meeting on November 17th, Sarinelli stated the District had made an additional Unbudgeted Expenditure on tech in the amount of $860,000.

To date in this budget year, Montclair seems to have spent around $1.86 million on tech for a district of 6,761 students.

In comparison, it was recently reported that the Tom’s River Regional District, serving 16,574 students and three high schools as of 2013 has spent $1,040,000 for PARCC testing. (2,160 Chrome books at a cost of $715,000, upgrading the district’s wireless network at $250,000, and $75,000 to update the memory within the school’s existing desktop computers.)

During Budget Workshops last year, community members and I repeatedly commented that the large PARCC and CCSS expenditures were too high. We argued they would put too much strain on the budget, and might force cuts in important areas later.

We didn’t want to pay so much for questionable PARCC tests, unproven curriculum and evaluations. We wanted our people back and our schools fully staffed.

We urged the BOE to go slowly. To spend minimally. What if the PARCC proves to be an unsuccessful test, if CCSS is a flash in the pan? (So many states have dropped out of the PARCC consortium that its numbers are less than half the original, and more districts are seeking waivers and delays due to concerns about the test).

We asked , how about requesting a paper PARCC, not needing massive new, computer purchases that will quickly become obsolete and require expensive bandwidth capable of carrying simultaneous testers? (There is a paper PARCC, but Acting Commissioner Hespe has resisted allowing its use except for special accommodations–which proves it is possible.)

What about yearly maintenance and expensive carrying fees going forward, we asked?

We begged the BOE to prioritize spending for learning and to join other districts in protesting the huge expenditures we were being required to make for the unfunded state mandates of PARCC and CCSS.

 Now, to get our rainy day fund to 2% where it should be, Sarinelli said the upcoming budget would have to set aside around $1.4 million.

The Superintendent has already warned at the MHS taped meeting that we may be facing some cuts and will have to make choices.

Let’s make sure that going forward we come together as a community to insist on the importance of fully funding our schools.

Let’s take a cue from the Watchung parents who demanded smaller kindergarten classes and got them. And the parents who demanded world languages and started a foreign language comeback for our schools.

Let’s stand for our schools and not be intimidated by calls for cuts that leave our schools underfunded and understaffed, and our children last among our citizens.

If we really want to get to “glide” as Sarinelli has advised, then our budgets should be solidly based on what we know works, small classes and full staffing, rich curriculum and support.

And we should insist on keeping those things in place, year to year as a solid foundation for our schools.

And when state mandates come that pressure our budget, kids and schools, let’s make sure our BOE speaks up for our community and stands for what our children need.

* The hard copies of the 138 page audit done by the firm of Nisivoccia, LLP were not available, but the auditor supplied a limited number of copies of page 138, showing the surplus amounts, which was discussed at length.

** You can read about my family’s experience taking the PARCC, and I hope you will consider taking the PARCC for yourself.

—Christine McGoey

The people speak up!

BOEmeet2

Made in June 2013 after a BOE meeting in which parents, students, and community spoke up against the Strategic Plan and high stakes testing. The BOE voted to approve the plan.

 

Dear Readers,

WOW! Last night’s Montclair Board of Education meeting (11/17/2014) proved that more and more parents
and community members are becoming aware of  the destructive policies being implemented by the NJDOE, Superintendent, and BOE.

Friends, people are experiencing the damage and harm it is causing our students, teachers, and schools in general. Lost learning time is only one of many things sacrificed to test prep for PARCC.

There was a terrific turn out, especially for a cold, rainy Monday night.
One after another,  passionate, caring, knowledgeable, thoughtful  community members stood up to publicly call on our Superintendent and BOE to pay attention, to listen, and to hear the community’s dissatisfaction with the status quo.

One by one, speakers took to the mic to express outrage, concerns, make statements, and ask questions. This is our town, our school district, and we will continue to stand up and speak out for OUR children.

While we’re busy unpacking all that transpired last night, we want to
thank district parent and blogger, Sarah Tepper Blaine from parentingthecore for sharing her comments made at the BOE meeting last night (11/17/14) on our Facebook page and we’re happy to share them here as well. Please read her post and share it with friends, neighbors, and fellow parents.

For anyone else who was in attendance last night, please keep your statements coming in to us here at montclairvoices@gmail.com. We want to post more comments so more people can read and find out what’s going on in our district!

Together we can make a difference.

Thanks for all you’re doing!

All of us at Montclair Voices

Why my child won’t be taking the PARCC

takeparccpic1

By Laurie Orosz

My biggest take away from the MCAS sponsored “Take the PARCC” event held Sunday, November 9 at the Bay Street firehouse is: not only can we refuse the tests on behalf of our children, we owe it to them to do so.

I’ve always opposed standardized testing. As a product of the New York City school system, I learned early on there was very little connection between what I did in the classroom and my performance on the tests. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the PARCC sample test.

There are several sample tests to choose from, in Math and Language Arts and in various grades. I’ve got a background in Language Arts, and am a mom of a third grader, so I chose to take the 3rd grade Language Arts sample test.

Rigorous? Critical thinking? Deeper meaning? These buzz words are spouted endlessly by our own Central Office staff, but none of them actually apply to this test.

The words that came to mind were: Multiple choice. Tedious. Text-heavy. Inappropriate. There’s no way my son, a good student, would be able to manage this test.

His computer skills are fine for his age, but this test involves a lot of going back and forth between the questions and the text. It takes coordination, development, and focus that I don’t see in the average 8-year-old—or in my son.

As to the skills being tested, since my son is still learning how to write a paragraph, writing an essay is beyond him at this point, let alone writing one under timed test conditions. The close reading technique they’re testing, largely denounced by most educators, simply demonstrates how well a child can: 1. Re-read a paragraph and 2. how patient he can be reading the questions.

There were approximately 100 participants and after we completed our sample tests, there was a lively question and answer period. It became clear that people who tested on tablets (I used an iPad) had a much better testing experience with the interface than those using laptops. So, a child who already has difficulty using a mouse is double in trouble because he might suddenly get kicked off and could lose all his work. How frustrating!

As I found the Language Arts test to be boring and developmentally inappropriate, many people felt similarly about the math questions. No one had anything positive to say.

The Q & A was followed by several knowledgeable and impassioned speakers who testified (despite the Superintendent’s claims to the contrary), to how these tests are resulting in a narrowed, test prep curriculum and how it is harming our childrenThis post by John Wodnick first appeared on the new blog, Montclair Education Matters.

I was especially moved by speaker, Latifah Jannah (the full text of her comments is below). I also share the sentiments in this letter to the editor from a Montclair resident and parent.

We learned these tests are good for technology and testing companies but not for our children or their teachers. They’re unfairly tied to teacher evaluations, put unnecessary stress on our children, and potentially label good schools as failing. They will widen the achievement gap and beginning in 2016, are being tied to high school graduation, potentially causing graduation rates to plummet.

takeparccpic2

Technically, we can’t “opt out” because we didn’t “opt in.” But we can refuse. As parents, it is our job to protect our children. They’re not wards of the state. When they walk through school doors, we don’t suddenly give up our parental rights. We must not abdicate our responsibility. If something isn’t good for them it is our job to protect them from it. Which is why I will be refusing the PARCC for my child. So can you.


Latifah Jannah, former longtime Student Assistance Counselor in Montclair Public Schools, grandparent of student currently in Montclair schools, graciously provided us with the text of her comments:

Read: “Harlem” / (Dream Deferred) by Langston Hughes

What happens to the deferred dreams of children as we prepare and push
Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders to fit onto the lockstep staircase of Common Core and PARCC?

What happens to the 6 yr old who dreams of being a scientist? Whose face is full of wonder as he talks knowingly of the difference between mammals and reptiles and why he is warm-blooded and snakes lay eggs? Who wants to learn about how bees make honey from a beekeeper? How long before the red circles, red do-overs, and red x’s on the weekly tests take their toll? Who has been told by his peers that he can’t read because he stumbles over words as he tries to sound them out or comes home and announces that he is a failure (his word) because he couldn’t say the sight words fast enough? What do parents do when they find out that their child is being placed in a general Ed support class during the day because the child’s understanding of a story is not “right”. Is there time now for a dream when your child is labeled as deficient? Now there is talk of extra help, maybe a tutor after school, if possible, and frustration that somehow and for
some reason, your child is not learning.

Peter Greene writes in Curmudgucation that we have a duty to teach young children how to journey through life with strength, confidence, and skill. We need to teach them how to find their way to solutions, whatever problems face them. But you can’t measure this with a single one right answer for everyone standardized test. For our young children we must value the journey over the
destination.

We often hear about Finland and their high rating from the Program for
International Student Assessment-a triennial international survey which
evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15 yr olds.

Recently, Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg gave the keynote address at the NJEA convention in Atlantic City. As reported, he spoke about 5 things you won’t find in Finland that affect education:

  1. Unhealthy competition-in Finland the focus is on providing a great school for every child, not a competition between schools and teachers based on test scores.
  1. Standardized testing-Finnish children earn top scores on PISA without taking standardized testing or test prep, taking one standardized test at the end of their education experience when they are 19-the focus is on individualized learning and children receive no grades in their 1st 5 years of schooling-it’s illegal to grade small children.
  1. Test based accountability-Finns don’t see the need to test everybody every year, but take samplings to measure student achievement.
  1. Obsession with the myth of teacher effectiveness-teachers in US are in competition with each other because we are told that our schools are populated with an overwhelming number of bad teachers. In Finland, teachers work collaboratively, and discussions are about school effectiveness rather than teacher effectiveness.
  1. Marketing school choice-private schools are illegal, parents choose from public schools, and there is a great focus on school equity. Charters and competition do not solve the problems of inequity of school funding and the social issue of income inequality, but instead, make those problems worse. He also noted a few things which can improve education, i.e., equity in school funding, focus on the health and well being of children, not cutting the arts, music, and physical education. Respect of teachers and teacher collaboration and empowerment, so that teaching remains a valued career of longevity, and not just a job to something else.

And that children must play. Researcher Sergio Pellis, of the University of
Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, in an August, 2014 report aired on National
Public Radio, makes the connection between free play (no coaches, umpires, or
rulebooks) and brain development, particularly in terms of social interaction.
According to Pellis, countries that have more recess tend to have higher
academic performance than those whose recess is less.

Also, Finland has universal day care for all children until they enter school at
age 7. As a side note, Theodore Roosevelt didn’t read until he was 7, but was a
voracious reader for the rest of his life, as well as maintaining a life long
curiosity about the world around him.

Speaking of history, is PARCC the beginning of the end for social studies and
history? Social Studies time is now being used for test preparation 1-2x weekly
in local schools. Education writer Alan Singer in the Huffington Post recently
wrote in an article titled Common Core and the End of History, that the NY state
board of regents voted unanimously that students did not have to pass US and
Global History exams in order to graduate from high school. In June, 2010, the
regents eliminated middle school social studies, history, and geography
assessments so students could concentrate on test preparation for high stakes
testing for standardized reading and math assessments. Social studies was
eliminated as one of the tests on NJASK a few years ago.

So, I started with Langston Hughes and I will end with him:

Read – “Dreams”

Latifah Jannah


 

Here are the two poems by Langston Hughes that Ms. Jannah read at the Take the PARCC event:

Harlem

By LANGSTON HUGHES

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175884

Langston Hughes, “Harlem” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Source: Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (Random House Inc., 1990)

Dreams

Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/dreams

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.

 


Thanks for reading and sharing with others.

All of us at Montclair Voices