Testimony on A-3018 for Education Review Task Force

Good morning,
My name is Melissa Katz and I am 18 years old. Currently I am an Urban Elementary Education major at the College of New Jersey and a student activist around the state. Based off of what I have researched, read, and seen with my own eyes in my local schools, I am very concerned about the direction we are moving in regards to education and the push for education reform. I am personally in a unique situation – I just graduated last year, but I am also on the path towards becoming a teacher in an urban district – and being in this in-between stage gives me an interesting and important perspective. Between my own independent studies and research and also my personal connections with my local schools, I have seen the real impacts of these reforms. If there’s anything I want you to take away from my testimony, it is this: I can sit here and present you with all of the research in the world (some of which I will reference), but this is more than just numbers on a graph and words on paper; these reforms are real, and they have real impacts on our students, communities, teachers, and future teachers. They will be especially detrimental to students in urban communities and aspiring urban education teachers.    
I would like to speak in regards to bill A-3081. Next year, the PARCC high stakes standardized test will replace NJ ASK for all New Jersey public school students. The results of PARCC will be used to punish students, teachers and schools. This bill would stop the punishments and create a taskforce of experts to explore alternative ways of assessing students. The taskforce also would examine the new teacher evaluation system and implementation of the Common Core Standards. More specifically, this task force would review the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in English-Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics, the use of the PARCC assessments, and again the implementation and importantly potential effects of the teacher evaluation system under TEACHNJ and AchieveNJ.
The bill also stipulates that the student growth percentile, a measure of how much a student’s test score has changed relative to other students who have a similar test score history, may not be used in a teaching staff member’s summative evaluation until the task force submits its final report, or two years after the bill’s effective date, whichever occurs later.  Similarly, the bill also states that the assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) may not be used for any accountability provisions, including as the high school graduation requirement, until the task force submits its final report, or two years after the bill’s effective date, whichever occurs later. Also under the bill, a school district would have the option of administering the PARCC assessment online, using a pencil and paper format, or a combination of the two, in the two school years following the bill’s enactment.
Bruce Baker, a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, has done extensive research in response to the student growth objectives (SGO’s) and student growth percentiles (SGP’s). In a report entitled “Deconstructing Information onStudent Growth Percentiles and Teacher Evaluation in New Jersey,” he states the following:
“Teachers in high poverty schools are dealing with children who have initially lower performance as defined by their test scores. Based upon this measure, they will have lower SGP’s, and now we begin the reform process of telling the narrative that these teachers are failing their students and must be replaced with new Teach for America grads who will be sure to magically turn things around and get those scores up!
“There are three ways the state plans to use SGP’s: rating schools for interventions, employment decisions, and evaluating teacher preparation institutions such as colleges and universities. In all of these cases, the use of SGP’s is inappropriate. SGP’s are not designed to determine a teacher’s or a school’s effect on test scores; again, they are descriptive, not causal, measures. Further, the bias patterns found in SGP’s provide a disincentive for teachers to teach in schools with large number of low-income students.”
The main issue here is that there is no concrete research supporting these new reforms. I don’t think you will be able to find a single teacher who believes that test scores should be used in a teacher’s evaluation because there is no research supporting the use of test scores in teacher evaluations will lead to better outcomes for students, let alone better teaching. When teachers know that they are going to be evaluated off of standardized testing – which lends to why they are considered “high stakes” tests – they go against their better judgment and begin teaching to the test. But there’s more than just that – these tests mean nothing in the long run. They are a single snapshot, a single moment in a student’s academic career. As Bruce Baker states in the same report:
“At a practical level, it is relatively easy to understand how and why student background characteristics affect not only their initial performance level but also their achievement growth. Consider that one year’s assessment is given in April. The school year ends in late June. The next year’s test is given the next April. First, there are approximately two months of instruction given by the prior year’s teacher that are assigned to the current year’s teacher. Beyond that, there are a multitude of things that go on outside of the few hours a day where the teacher has contact with a child, that influence any given child’s “gains” over the year, and those things that go on outside of school vary widely by children’s economic status. Further, children with certain life experiences on a continued daily, weekly and monthly basis are more likely to be clustered with each other in schools and classrooms.

“With annual test scores, differences in summer experiences which vary by student economic background matter. Lower income students experience much lower achievement gains than their higher income peers over the summer. Even the recent Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching Project, which used fall and spring assessments, found that “students improve their reading comprehension scores as much (or more) between April and October as between October and April in the following grade. That is, gains and/or losses may be as great during the time period when children have no direct contact with their teachers or schools. Thus, it is rather absurd to assume that teachers can and should be evaluated based on these data.”
The lack of concrete research does not stop with just SGO’s and SGP’s; rather, it extends to all aspects of the reform movement. First, there is no research to suggest that the Common Core State Standards are superior to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education states this best – she writes:
“The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.
“Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?”
Another myth surrounding the Common Core that has been presented to the public is that the standards were adopted voluntarily. But this is simply not true. Most states that adopted the Common Core did so to be eligible to compete for federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funding totaling around $4.35 billion. Because the Obama administration tied receiving a No Child Left Behind waiver to the adoption of Common Core, among many of the other reforms, it was basically mandatory, not voluntary, that the Common Core State Standards be adopted to receive that waiver. Even worse, “the standards were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.”
This is of great concern to me and many other not only because of the issues at face value, but also because New Jersey is and has been for a long time one of the very top performing states in the entire country. This is the perfect transition to PARCC, as at last week’s State Board of Education meeting, Bari Erlichson gave a presentation discussing how amazing PARCC is and how smooth the field tests went. She presented tweets from the public that seemed only positive – perhaps she didn’t look through twitter well enough to see some of the other responses:
@GoogleAppsK12: PARCC testing did not go well today #PARCC
@GarthHolman: Several of my teaching friends did not pass the 7th grade math #PARCC, what is your score? 
There are endless reports of computers freezing, kicking students out, not saving their progress, and kids struggling with working on the computers to know how to use all of the tools to complete the test. For students to develop these “test-taking skills” teachers will have to spend even more class time away from genuine teaching and learning and consequently more time on test preparation.
Now that I have presented some of the evidence, as I said I would, I want to take this to a more personal level, past the graphs and words. All of these reforms, these new tests, and these new evaluations are discouraging young and upcoming teachers from entering the profession, especially in urban districts where there is even a stronger need for the best teachers who are fully committed to their job. Many people are reluctant to go into urban districts in the first place, but these measures are going to make the situation even worse. Students in urban districts generally perform lower on tests due to socioeconomic issues, such as the intense level of poverty, lack of resources and infrastructure, and more personal issues to each such as family issues, hunger, and danger due to the environment of urban districts. How are we going to encourage teachers to go into these disadvantaged districts when they know they are going to be negatively impacted in their evaluations due to student test scores, which as discussed above are a reflection of socioeconomic status and advantage (or lack there of) rather than true ability? It doesn’t make sense that a students’ performance on one day in one moment should have such a big impact on their teachers, let alone themselves. Standardized tests are meant to be a snapshot. We must take a moment, step back, and actually open our eyes to see what is going on. I have worked in the classroom during my volunteer time at my old elementary schools with students on the chromebooks, and they struggle to even reach the keys on the keyboard, let alone understand and comprehend how to take a standardized test on a computer. I have taken the tests myself and I can promise you that I would not pass. The following is a typical question:
“You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, “Energy Story” and “Conducting Solutions,” and viewing a video clip titled “Hands-On Science with Squishy Circuits.”In an essay, compare the purpose of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.
Rebecca Steinitz, a literary consultant, writer, and editor in Massachusetts, has a Ph. D. in English, coaches in urban districts, and has a daughter in seventh grade. Her response to this is as follows:
“I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve been in college and high school classrooms for over 20 years, and for much of that time I’ve trained and coached high school English teachers. I was shocked that the ninth grade test included an excerpt from Bleak House, a Dickens novel that is usually taught in college. I got seven out of 36 multiple-choice questions wrong on the eleventh grade test.”
I urge you to take that step back and slow this all down. It is as if the state is driving a train full speed forward, but you have a whole community standing on the tracks and waving at you to slow the train down as to not hit everyone on the tracks. This has to be slowed down and reviewed extensively before we hurt the kids standing on the tracks. Thank you for your consideration and support of A-3081 today. I also urge the committee to pass A-3079, which bans PARCC like testing on students in grades K through 2, and A-3077 which requires school district to inform parents about the standardized tests their students will take. Assemblymen Rible and Singleton have introduced bills to protect the privacy of student data and I ask for you consideration of those measures that will keep private student information safe from entities that could use the data for unintended purposes.

Thank you.

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