If you came to the Convention last month, you probably grabbed this button/pin. If you weren’t in Atlantic City, perhaps you’ve noticed one pinned on a colleague’s lapel.
Tests don’t teach.
It’s remarkable how three short words can say so much. Of course, the tens of thousands of NJEA members who gathered in the convention center came, as they always do, to hone their skills, hear about the latest trends, and gather materials and ideas for their classrooms. But this year, something else was on everyone’s mind—the growing specter of standardized testing.
Because educators understand the harmful effects of the overuse and misuse of standardized tests, many of the questions asked during the State Board of Education Forum and the Commissioner of Education’s address focused on the upcoming PARCC tests. And because of the deep concern held by teachers and parents,Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg’s plenary session generated particular interest. Finland’s education system is widely regarded as among the best in the world yet its students take only one standardized test toward the very end of their school careers.More convention news and photos
PARCC dominates discussion at State BOE Forum
The unnerving pace of education reform in New Jersey was on full display during this year’s State Board of Education Forum. Even though the rollout of the Common Core is still underway, not one question was asked about the new standards. Despite all the confusion associated with AchieveNJ, only a few members asked about the new evaluation system. So what was on the minds of educators that afternoon? High stakes standardized testing.
Three members of the New Jersey State Board of Education (SBOE) were on hand to field the 27 questions posed by NJEA members: President Mark Biedron, Vice President Joe Fisicaro and long-time member Ron Butcher.
|State Board of Education member Ronald Butcher (l) explains why he believes parents do not have the right to opt their children out of statewide standardized tests. To his left are State Board Vice President Joe Fisicaro and State Board President Mark Biedron.|
Biedron, who joined the SBOE in 2011, became its president in July. He invited the audience to “ask the tough questions,” noting that “Everybody in this room is educating children to think out of the box, and we want you to do the same thing.”
When those tough questions did involve teacher evaluation, Assistant Commissioner of Education Peter Shulman was asked to respond. Shulman oversees the Office of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness at the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).
For example, when members asked about creating student growth objectives (SGOs) for special education classes, Shulman explained that the NJDOE plans to increase the number of SGO examples on its website to provide more guidance for teachers and administrators. He also encouraged teachers of students with IEPs to contact the department with questions about ways to streamline the SGO process.
|Gabriel Tanglao of the Bergenfield EA asks Commissioner Hespe to discuss measures other than standardized tests that can demonstrate success.|
But when Mercer County teacher Heidi Olson asked what was going to be done about controversial aspects of AchieveNJ that are driving teachers from the profession, Biedron handled that one on his own. “We are all ears. We believe we are in a partnership with NJEA,” he said.
“We have to solve these problems together. Is this the perfect system? No. But together we’re going to make it one.”
Most of the 90-minute discussion revolved around the PARCC tests. The developmental appropriateness of the exams for elementary and special needs students, district readiness for the computer-based tests, and the inevitable narrowing of the curriculum as more time is spent on test preparation were addressed.
Hudson County teacher Gerald Lyons, who also serves as a board of education member in Jersey City, asked about the state’s policy on parents “opting out” of standardized tests for the children.
Butcher referred to a recent memo from Commissioner of Education David Hespe, in which he stated his belief that parents do not have the right to opt their children out of state tests.
“If you are sending your child to a public school you are obligated to follow state statutes and policies,” Butcher contended.
When Cumberland County Deanna Nicosia-Jones pushed back on the opt-out issue, Biedron expressed some bewilderment about parental concern about over-testing.
“The CTBS tests that I took in the ‘70s and ‘80s are not the high-pressure, high-stakes tests that the PARCC test is,” Nicosia-Jones explained.
|Jennifer Bailey of the Montclair EA asks Commissioner Hespe why he will not allow parents or guardians to opt their children out of statewide standardized tests.|
Another member asked if her rights as a parent trump the state’s rights to test her child. Butcher speculated that this is an issue that may find its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Middlesex County teacher Erin McCaffrey asked how the state can calculate student growth percentiles during the transition from current tests to PARCC.
“I’m not a psychometrician, but I'm going to do my best to answer,” said Shulman.
When his attempt failed to clear up the confusion, McCaffrey was asked to provide her contact information so that NJDOE personnel could get back to her.
Other topics addressed during the forum included vocational education, the Next Generation Science Standards, charter schools, district social media policies, zero tolerance, absenteeism and tenure.
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer moderated the forum and complimented Biedron on his approach to communicating with NJEA.
“Working with Mark has been a welcome change,” said Steinhauer. He and Biedron meet monthly in an effort to solve problems before they become major issues.
Biedron’s response to the last question exemplified his desire to open the dialogue between policymakers and educators. When New Jersey Student Education Association member Megan Namnama from Montclair State University asked what the board planned to do to help teachers understand the complexities of AchieveNJ and PARCC so they can explain the issue to prospective teachers, Biedron reiterated his desire to improve communication