Careful Navigation Needed: PARCC Testing is the Tip of the Iceberg

"Defies Measurement" has been shown in venues around Middlesex County to inform community members about the possible outcomes of standardized testing. Credits: Vimeo
Local residents view and discuss the documentary "Defies Measurement" at the EBPL. Credits:

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ -  In an effort to inform parents and members of the public about the possible extended dangers behind PARCC testing and other high-stakes tests that consume a great deal of student time and teacher energy in our public schools, the Middlesex County Education Association has launched an advocacy campaign in local communities to provide insight into the direction being taken by schools that are required by the state to use commercially-developed, online assessments.  Results from these tests impact not only student placement, graduation, and self-esteem, but also teacher evaluation, training, and retention, say opponents.

At the East Brunswick Public Library last week, representatives from the New Jersey Education Association met with members of the East Brunswick community to view the film Defies Measurement (full video is also attached here) and to discuss the larger story behind standardized testing and its impact on the direction of our overall educational system.

Defies Measurement tells the story of Chipman Middle School in Alameda County, California and the journey of the staff and students from impactful experiential learning environment to one driven by the need to achieve improved standardized testing results.

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The basic theme of the film is that testing is "squeezing the life out of education" and "has taken away the joy and art of teaching."  In the film, Diane Ravitch, noted education historian from New York University, references Campbell's Law, a principle that suggests that any time a measurement becomes too important, it is bound to fail.  Ravitch also credits the development of charter schools with drawing funds and energy from the public schools.  

An additional focus of the film is the effect of poverty on American education and the high cost of educational testing.  According to statistics presented in the film, the United States spent $263 million on testing in 1997, moving upward to $2.46 billion in 2014.  Ravitch warned against trying to "do school reform on the cheap" for poor kids, saying that testing leads to tracking and does not address societal needs. 

In the film, director and author Shannon Puckett asserts that the "privitazation movement is based on using test data as a weapon against schools."  Chipman Middle School goes through transitions in the film, moving from a successful community school in a low-income neighborhood that is well-remembered by its articulate students in 2004 to an empty, closed charter school that has collapsed around testing in 2010.

Following the movie, Ted Tympanick, a representative of the Middlesex County Education Association, said that it is "very clear that the ulterior motive in the testing movement is to create schools that are outlets for companies to make a profit." Tympanick went on to describe the drive by Pearson Education ( the creators of the PARCC assessments) and other corporations to create a national school system based on "canned" curricula developed by the same people who design the tests to assess student achievement. 

Linking the "for-profit" motives behind commerical testing and the charter movement, an East Brunswick resident in the audience (who wished not to be identified) complained about the Hatikvah International Academy, a charter school in East Brunswick, saying "It is insane that a charter school can be better or provide more than the East Brunswick Schools can." Some residents and students who were present resented the amount of instructional time wasted on test preparation and the tests themselves.  Several community members encouraged parents to "Refuse the Test" formally by submitting their notices to school officials. 

Middlesex County Education Association Representative Deb Cornavaca added that the testing movement "uses strategies to divide students, teachers, and parents and creates a breakdown of solidarity" among stake-holders. She encouraged participants to visit the New Jersey Kids and Families website to learn more about the tests and what parents' options are.

The meeting concluded with a discussion of classroom and school climate caused by the intense focus on the testing.  "I spend to much time thinking about the tests and too much time taking them, " said one East Brunswick student present at the meeting.

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