Here we are again. It’s the spring of 2016, and the PARCC tests are once again looming for our children. If you will recall, last year, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Dave Hespe’s initial response to the opt-out movement was dismissive: at last year’s NJEA convention, his take on the opt-out movement was:
“We’re not seeing an opt-out movement across the state of New Jersey. The best I can tell, it’s one-tenth of one percent of tests returned to us that were not filled in.”
To be honest, last year I thought the New Jersey opt-out movement would be doing great if 1% of New Jersey kids refused, as this would have been a ten-fold increase from prior years. But of course, I was happily wrong, and instead approximately 13.5% of New Jersey students in testing grades refused the test, a more than one hundred-fold increase.
This year, there is no question that Dave Hespe and the New Jersey Department of Education are taking us seriously. They’re forcing schools that had more than 5% of students refuse PARCC to submit Corrective Action Plans; they’re apparently accepting the Chamber of Commerce’s/We Raise New Jersey’s offensive pro-PARCC presentation as a way of implementing a Corrective Action Plan; and they’re doing a public relations offensive, including today’s Star Ledger article, which points out five ways in which this year’s PARCC is allegedly slightly less onerous than last year’s version (spoiler: none of the ways include throwing out the high-stakes uses of the PARCC test).
But the impact of high-stakes standardized tests like PARCC on our public schools has not changed, and as someone commented on the Star Ledger article, all the superficial changes NJDOE and the PARCC consortium have made so far have had no more effect than painting some some lipstick on the PARCC pig. So yes, Dave Hespe and his minions at NJDOE are taking us seriously, but their solution is to bully parents, students, and community leaders into submission, not to respond to our concerns.
So I still refuse. And I encourage you to do so as well.
I still refuse because my 5th grader’s math homework is largely multiple choice questions rather than open-ended problems that allow her to show her work and her teacher to address her problems with reasoning or application of algorithms.
I still refuse because night after night, my 5th grader’s English Language Arts homework is still to read and answer multiple-choice questions about poorly-written, often out-of-context non-fiction passages from free test prep sites like ReadWorks.org.
I still refuse because my 5th grader is spending tons of in-school “Response to Intervention” time answering MobyMax test-prep questions instead of taking an extra arts or music or social studies elective.
I still refuse because my 1st grader is literally biting her arm with boredom in class due to developmentally inappropriate curriculum paired with the unimaginative teaching it encourages.
I still refuse because aggregate test-results continue to be used to castigate and punish the few economically and racially integrated schools in our state (like those in my town) for the results of the opportunity gaps highlighted by the disparate scores of in-school subgroups on standardized tests.
I still refuse because across our state, test-prep is causing kids to lose out, in far more egregious ways than what my kids lose, on the arts, the music, the social studies, the hands-on science, and the community building that make public school a refuge for so many kids with few other options.
I still refuse because our leaders refuse to listen to parents, teachers, and community activists who are demonstrating that we can and should be doing better by our kids.
I still refuse because despite their Study Commissions and State Board of Education hearings, our leaders in Washington and Trenton refuse to listen to the concerns of real parents, real teachers, real local Board of Education members, and real students, even though they pay lip-service to the notion of democratic control of (at least suburban) public schools.
I still refuse because too many of our state education bureaucrats and our local superintendents, principals, and board of education members are ignoring the fact that New Jersey passed a law on November 9, 2015 that specifically and explicitly prohibited Dave Hespe and his minions from withholding funds from our districts based on low PARCC participation rates.
I still refuse because my kids deserve better for their education — and so do yours. I still refuse, and I hope you will too.