MILLBURN, NJ - At Monday's Millburn Board of Education meeting, Lois Infanger, president of the Millburn Education Association, addressed a number of concerns about test administration, performance of technology, time involved and other issues concerning the statewide standardized PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests administered this month in township schools.

Noting that parents, members of the press, school board members and her colleagues had asked why the MEA had not yet made a public statement on the tests, Infanger said, “The local governing body of the MEA felt it was important to actually experience the PARCC test prior to making any judgments. Well, we have experienced the PARCC test and tonight I am going to speak about it.”

The MEA president thanked building level administrators for their assistance and support, and said those in charge of technology in the township’s public schools “were outstanding, offering as much support as they were able calling Pearson (the firm which formulated the tests and the system for administering them) for clarification and guidance.”

She also thanked students “for navigating the unknown” and her colleagues “for dealing with every possible curveball that was thrown at us.”

Infanger said, however, the school district should consider:

  • Testing took from five to 27 hours of instruction from students.
  • Instruction time lost due to test preparation.  Although many teachers were able to combine a lesson with PARCC prep, teachers took class time to acquaint students with the online testing experience.
  • Gliches with tests and technology including computer screens going blank while students were working
  • Since many students were told the tests don’t matter and they should just do their best, some did not take them seriously.
  • As test administrators, teachers saw that some students were completing 70-minute sections of the tests in 10 minutes.

Infanger added that PARCC testing matters to faculty members because, “As I speak tonight, the scores from this year’s testing will account for 10 percent of many teachers’ final evaluaton scores.”

She noted that 10 percent might not sound like much, but asked board members how they would feel if a building contractor left their home renovations with 10 percent of the job incomplete or a surgeon walked away with 10 percent of an operation still to be done or an employer suddenly cut their salary by 10 percent.

She added, “One must wonder about the test—money that should be used for direct instruction not for the administration of tests and all the costs surrounding that testing."

Infanger concluded, “I would ask the board of education to give these issues some great thought...and open dialogue. I would ask that the board of education offer Dr. Burton (Christine Burton, interim superintendent of schools) as much support and as many resources as she needs to investigate the true validity of the PARCC testing...”

Burton replied that the school district administration had learned much about the testing procedures and they shared many of the concerns voiced by Infanger.  She also said they would look into how those procedures could be revised in the future to perhaps do it more effectively, realizing, of course, that PARCC testing was an obligation in New Jersey. 

She also said, however, the administration was concerned about the level of student stress surrounding PARCC testing.

The interim superintendent added that she would like to hear all points of view, from administrators, faculty and staff members and would soon hold a summit on the testing to solicit those points of view.

Infanger said that she hoped to be included in that summit and would not make any comment on the township’s response to the concerns she raised until she had a chance to assess that response after the summit.

Resident Regina Cariddi, who previously served as a PTO official at Glenwood School and in the Millburn PTO Conference, said she had spoken to many friends and relatives who were teachers and they had many of the same concerns about PARCC testing expressed by the MEA president.

She urged residents of Millburn-Short Hills to speak out in the many legislative forums being held on the testing, especially with regard to its possible negative effects on high-performing schools such as those in the township.

Cariddi also said it was courageous of Millburn teachers to speak out about PARCC testing.

In addition, she said she was concerned about student and teacher First Amendment rights to express their opinions about the tests after hearing of an instance in the Watchung Hills Regional School District where a third-party firm hired by Pearson had been monitoring a student’s Twitter account to determine whether there had been a lapse in test security.

Monday’s meeting also featured a demonstration by the Millburn High School robotics team, which recently captured the title in the eastern division super-regional competition and is one of 88 schools to be invited to participate in an international robotics competition in St. Louis.

Team members noted their unit had participated in eight tournaments this year and, in one competition, had won the “Inspire Award,” the highest award given in the First Tech Challenge.

They demonstrated a robot, which they planned and constructed, that was able to lift wiffle balls into a designated position on a grid mapped onto a floor and place the balls into specific targeted positions.

Team plans for the future include strengthening the high school team’s ties with robotics students in the township’s elementary and middle schools, including instructing the younger students; creating their own website by next year, giving the younger students the incentive to enter Lego competitions next year, inviting other schools to collaborate with them and conducting their own tournaments in Millburn-Short Hills.

Members of the high school team noted that advisor Dave Farrell believes the students should run their own program and plan and build their own robots, including the equipment used in constructing the robots.

They also will be developing an exhaustive business plan in conjunction with their robotics programs.

Amy Talbert and Sheila Bouri, co-presidents of the Millburn-Short Hills Educational Foundation, and Shannon Aronson, board chairman, reviewed the many programs sponsored and financed in township schools through the foundation.

Talbert and Aronson both pointed out the foundation is a partnership of donors, volunteers and taxpayers dedicated to bringing programs and materials into classrooms that tax money alone cannot fund in an increasingly tight budget situation.

In a video outlining foundation programs, teacher Gabe Rhodes noted that 98 percent of his interaction with students came about through programs financed through the foundation.

Students talked about the funding of Studio 462, the student-run television station financed through the foundation, while another teacher said videoconferencing equipment financed through the foundation helped her students “travel” to many other countries and “meet” other students they would not be able to do without foundation support.

Another teacher demonstrated the Bee Bots program, through which elementary school students learn to use robots in the form of small bees to perform tasks such as spelling out the students’ names or find their way around obstacles on a course set up on a classroom floor.

Millburn Middle School robotics teacher Lester Greenberg noted that every eighth-grader in the school takes a robotics class and about 30 percent of the student body is involved in some way with robotics.

He noted with pride that many of his students were girls who, once they were exposed to use of hand tools used in crafting robotics, “would not put them down.”

He added that one of the planned courses, called “Girls Coding,” was being financed through a special foundation grant from Dun & Bradstreet Credibility. The course, which will be open to all in the school, is first-come, first served, he said, and it is almost fully registered.

He demonstrated the kinetics program, also financed through the foundation, and how it too is advancing robotics in the middle school.

Talbert spoke about the approximately $2 million already raised through the foundation, while Aronson outlined the 2020 Vision Campaign to raise $5 million by the year 2020 to provide students “with challenging programs and outstanding instruction in an engaging, 21st Century learning environment.

Among a number of personnel actions approved at the meeting were merit goal criteria for Burton, to be submitted to the Essex County executive superintendent of schools for approval as part of the interim superintendent’s contract.

The goals are: 

  • To develop a proposal for purchase of the Millburn Regional Day School by June 30 of this year to include the “educational rationale and estimated costs for a 21st century learning/makerspace." Achievement of this goal is valued at up to .75 percent of Burton’s annual base salary.
  • To develop a proposal for repurposing the Millburn Education Center by June 30, 2015, also valued at up to .75  percent of Burton’s annual base salary.