Op-Ed: What the Public Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Our Students, Our Schools
As a community of parents and educators, we must come together to rebuff the politicization of public education
On August 31, 2016, at 3:32 p.m. the New Jersey Department of Education released a memorandum changing the evaluation criteria for all grades 4 to 8 language arts and mathematics teachers (including special education). The change moves the percentage that student growth percentages (SGPs) count in a teacher’s overall performance rating from 10 percent to 30 percent. The SGP score attained for teachers is derived from each individual teacher’s students’ performance on the PARCC examination.
Changing the SGP percentages the day before teachers return to work demonstrates a lack of professional understanding and signals that the politicization of education has created a disregard for those of us in the field. The change signifies the intensification in the value our New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey State Board of Education holds for the PARCC examination. An intentional ratcheting up of the importance of a standardized assessment further burdens an already stressed educational system.
This overemphasis on the PARCC exam also can be seen in the new graduation requirements passed by the New Jersey State Board of Education on August 3, 2016. These changeson the New Jersey Department of Education website.
For the next three years, the New Jersey Department of Education will allow students to meet graduation requirements by achieving passing scores on the PARCC assessments, achieving certain scores on alternative assessments (SAT, ACT, or Accuplacer), or by submitting a student portfolio appeal to the New Jersey Department of Education. The process utilized for students in special education is derived from their individualized Education Plan (IEP). Despite the multitude of ways a student could meet the graduation requirements during the 2015 – 2016 school year, approximately 10,000 students submitted portfolio appeals. Based upon the statewide passing rate of the 2015 – 2016 administration of the PARCC assessment, 59 percent of high school students would not have met the graduation requirements using solely the PARCC assessment.
A major change for the Class of 2020 is that they must take all end-of-course PARCC assessments for which they are eligible. Therefore, parents no longer will be able to opt out their children from the PARCC exam. For the Class of 2020, there is no passing score required; only taking the PARCC assessment is required.
Current grade 8 students must demonstrate proficiency on the ELA 10 and Algebra 1 assessments. These students, the Class of 2021, also must take all end-of-course PARCC assessments for which they are eligible (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, ELA 9, ELA 10, ELA 11). The use of alternative assessments will be eliminated for the Class of 2021. This elimination, coupled with the requirement to pass the PARCC Algebra 1 and ELA 10 assessments, signifies a turning point in the intensification of high-stake assessments.
With these new graduation requirements, there are so many elements still undefined. For instance, if PARCC is a graduation requirement for the Class of 2021, what happens if a student passes Algebra I in 8th grade but does not pass the PARCC examination? How is the New Jersey Department of Education going to work with students that transfer into a school district from out of state? What will PARCC remediation look like? Who will score these assessments? How will PARCC be administered for Option ii courses? Further, what is the value for students of the Class of 2021 to take the PARCC assessment for geometry, Algebra II, ELA 9 and ELA 11 if only the Algebra 1 and ELA 10 assessments count for graduation? How will the burdensome appeals process be addressed?
The unspoken message is that the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey State Board of Education believe they can change educational outcomes by implementing a system of standardized tests, data points, and accountability measures. They believe that if you create “valid” and “reliable” assessment instruments, that all students will magically succeed. Through a blind allegiance to standardized assessments, the NJDOE and NJSBOE have failed to provide the support, programs, and professional development that would work to ensure that all students succeed.
Another monumental change that occurred at the August 3, 2016 New Jersey State Board of Education meeting was regarding teacher preparation (student teaching). The NJ State Board of Education officially adopted edTPA which is an assessment created by Stanford University faculty and staff at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE). While there may be some benefits to this framework, one should have significant concerns about aspects of the implementation process. It is important to note that edTPA currently is the only performance assessment approved by the State of New Jersey. It is a new performance assessment that will be required for licensure. As such, the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey State Board of Education have outsourced an aspect of licensure to a third-party provider.
In this case the New Jersey Department of Education has awarded the implementation of edTPA to Pearson, the same company that has the PARCC contract. This new assessment uses video recording. While confidentiality guidelines and video recording permission slips have been created, we should all be fundamentally opposed to the submission of video recordings that will include students to a third-party provider. Let’s be clear, the use of video recording and the reflection of instructional practices is a longstanding best practice for educators. In this scenario, the use of video recording is based upon a system of accountability and accreditation. It is important to note that the intention for using edTPA goes beyond student teaching. This third-party provider will also be impacting the award of certificates for alternate route teachers and for teachers transferring credentials from other states.
As a result of these changes, the West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School District no longer will be accepting student teachers after the 2016 – 2017 school year, as the new regulations go into effect for the 2017 – 2018 school year. The New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey State Board of Education have not sufficiently established the reason for these changes. Rather than helping public schools train and recruit candidates for areas in tremendous shortage (physics, calculus, special education, ESL, bilingual/bicultural, career and tech ed, family and consumer science, school psychologists, social workers, LDTCs, industrial technology, computer science, world languages), the New Jersey Board of Education and the New Jersey Department of Education have chosen to focus on changing a system that has worked well for years.
Teacher preparation is an area that has had very few concerns raised, and it is an area that our college and university partners conduct with great acumen. Teacher preparation is not broken and does not need to be fixed. Our New Jersey teacher preparation programs are nationally accredited and produce outstanding teaching candidates. The utilization of a new teacher preparation program will create further barriers to entrance by increasing financial burdens for college students by lengthening the time it takes to graduate due to the year-long student teaching. It also increases costs for college and university partners.
As a community of parents and educators, we must come together to rebuff the politicization of public education and insist that these changes are met with opposition and disapproval. We cannot remain on the sidelines as upheaval from the politics of education clouds what is best for our children. We must remain vigilant and centered on the essence of our work, which is to ensure the highest-quality educational experience for all students.