Wednesday, October 21, 2015

PARCC Test Results in NJ: Child Abuse on the Grand Scale

Well, the PARCC test results are out in New Jersey and to no one's surprise, the scores were low. Certainly the State Department of Education was not surprised, since they know that similar forms of the test had similar results in states like New York where an earlier version of the test was taken and where a scant 30% of students were judged to be meeting or exceeding standards. And so it is in New Jersey, where in no grade level did more than half of the students pass the test.

New Jersey Commissioner of Education, David Hespe, says that "There is still much work to be done in ensuring all of our students are fully prepared for the 21st century demands of college and career." Of course that is the official line of all reform minded politicians from President Obama, to US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to Bill Gates to everybody else who seeks to discredit parents, students, teachers, their unions and public education in general. Low test scores are a major component of the reformers drive for privatizing education through charter schools, vouchers, national standards, over-testing of children and the elimination teacher job protections.

But this test tells us nothing about our children's preparedness for college and career. In fact, the only thing these test results tell us is that the test is deeply and irretrievably flawed. Any competent teacher will tell you that if more than 50% of the students in a class fail a test that there is something wrong with the test. I recently gave a test in my college freshman class. While 95% of the students passed the test, one section of the test caused many students trouble. When I returned the test to the students at the next class, I asked them what gave them trouble with that section of the test that I had thought would be fairly easy. Together we determined that some of the students, who had only taken one other test from me, were confused by the format of the question and had not studied for what the test was asking of them. I noted this and determined to make changes in future tests to insure students knew the expectations and had a better chance at being successful.

Like many other PARCC observers, I predicted the PARRC scores would be low long before anyone took the test. This did not take rocket science. All I did was look at the reading passages for the English/language arts part of the exam and note that they were, for the most part, about 2 grade levels above what should be expected for a student at that grade. I also looked at the readability of the word problems in math and found similar concerns. I also examined the questions asked of students and the match between the passages and the students. You can read those analyses here, here, here and here. Our children were set up to fail this test, so that education reformers can continue to argue for the dismantling of public education. In New Jersey, all anyone needs to do is look at what is happening in Newark and Camden to see that private companies are taking over public education. The PARCC test is simply one more stake to the heart for public schooling.

All New Jersey parents and teachers want every child to be a high achiever and there is nothing wrong with having high expectations for children. But when education bureaucrats seek to advance their own agendas by setting a testing bar above what a child should be expected to do, that does not lead to high achievement, it leads to frustration and feelings of failure. 

Here is what Commisioner Hespe should have said about the PARCC test. "Any test where more than 50% of children fall below expectations is obviously a flawed test. We at the State Department need to go back to the drawing board and find out what we did wrong and see if we can correct it for the future. Governor Christie and I would like to apologize to the parents and children of New Jersey for putting them through this fruitless exercise and we promise to do better by talking to parents, students and teachers about ways to design a test that is both more fair and more useful for informing instruction going forward."

I am not holding my breath for this statement. Until such enlightenment comes out of the state department, however, I recommend all New Jersey parents simply refuse to let their children take the test. Opt Out when testing time rolls around again. 

Setting kids up for failure constitutes child abuse.