MONTCLAIR, NJ - During an education forum sponsored by community organization Montclair Cares About Schools on Saturday afternoon, educators and concerned citizens gathered to discuss the educational inequity and policy issues public schools are facing nationwide. Some expressed that the schools need to be accountable and engage with other movements to help with poverty, jobs, racism, and mass incarceration. 

The forum was comprised of several guest speakers.

The first speaker, Marla kilfoyle, a wife, mother to a 13 year old son with special needs, and most notable a parent advocate for Long Island’s Common Core Opt-Out program. While Kilfoyle gave credit to the NY school system by providing her son with an inclusive education beginning in Kindergarten, she stated that the school system failed her son in the 3rd grade when Common Core began.

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She provided an apropos story of how her son came home after taking a standardized test and told her that he felt like the teachers were trying to trick him. While narrating the national landscape Kilfoyle made references to the now 12-year-old Asean Johnson from Chicago who at the age of 9 fought the Chicago Board of Education while advocating against the closing of his elementary school. If you do not know who Asean Johnson click here to see him speak. 

As part of the open dialogue the audience was asked what they wanted to see come out of these forums. Some of the responses include: freedom of thought, small class sizes, recess, project based learning, and last but certainly not least for students and teachers to not be defined by testing.

Another of the esteemed panelists, Stan Karp, a Paterson public school educator for 30 years, likened the standardized testing situation to credit default swaps. After making the comparison, Karp backed up his statement with the number of states that have opted out of PARCC and Common Core testing which have decreased from 26 to 6. As an educator, Karp, speaks to the impact testing data has. Karp also spoke during the forum MCAS held last year.

What the data shows is that high school testing is not a good means of measurement and not helpful to the students, parents, or educators. Rather this testing data gathered leads to an increase in high school dropout rates and increased incarceration rates. This data is not a reliable measurement especially for New Jersey as we have to softest testing regime. While educational lawsuits are pending with the Educational Law Center and the ACLU, New Jersey has come a long way with the discontinuation of exit testing such as the HESPA but there has not been a complete transition to Portfolio Assessment. Karp has made the call to action that more supports be provided instead of more tests.

The next panelist was, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matter, a nonprofit bipartisan organization which advocates for smaller class sizes. Haimson presented data on how sensitive student data can be compromised and the corporations behind standardized testing are using the data for profit, not to benefit the students. More specifically, how New York state and the information gathered from various means was being sold off to InBloom, Inc.

The data ranges from age and grade to classifications and health data. As a parent, one may question how this is even possible, the answer stems from changes made to the Federal Educational Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations in 2008 and 2011. Upon further exploration, it was discovered that the privacy issue ran deeper as the current HIPAA guidelines also do not cover students or the related data allowing for InBloom, Inc. to exist.

The concern stemming from data mining is that it will lead to the profiling of students. If a teacher knows from seeing sensitive data on a student that he or she has behavioral issues the teacher may look for the behavioral issues causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. The answer to this is reduced class sizes in grades K-12 which will translate to personalized learning and a narrowed achievement gap.

As though that was not enough coverage on standardize testing, Julie Sass Rubin spoke about the policy aspect and advocated for the grassroots organization of various people and resources. A great example of this is the organization Save Our Schools NJ. While the state has not yet released PARCC data, Rubin’s data showed the amount of the 2014-2015 students without valid PARCC test data is over 125,000.  

She did an overview of the status of several legislative bills related to the testing and educational equality which are all available on saveourschoolnj.org. Rubin also drew attention to upcoming governor’s race and how the race provides opportunity for policy change.

Last but certainly not least, Dr. Lauren Wells, Chief Educational Officer for the City of Newark, focused on the importance of feeling and learning and maintaining the intricate yet delicate relationship between schools and the community. She stressed the importance of keeping the relationship between the community and schools as one that is based on increased trust and communication. With all the turmoil that the City of Newark, and other cities such as Paterson or Camden have gone through, it is clear that forums such as these are imperative. Not just for the wealth of information but for the opportunity to speak and be heard.

For more information about topics such as standardized testing and educational policy in New Jersey and beyond, connect with MCAS on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Montclair-Cares-About-Schools-151421161685482/