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 children. This 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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Test based accountability-Finns don’t see the need to test everybody every year, but take samplings to measure student achievement.
- 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.
- 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”
Here are the two poems by Langston Hughes that Ms. Jannah read at the Take the PARCC event:
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?
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)
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.
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.
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