Monday, June 30, 2014

Samantha Reilly: Melissa Katz - Reviving Education by Tearing it Down

Written by Samantha Reilly, South Brunswick High School Class of 2014
Originally published in The Viking Vibe 

The name “Melissa Katz” rings a few bells around South Brunswick as a 2013 graduate of SBHS, but as the district approaches the implementation of PARCC testing, Katz approaches a new status as a household name in terms of education reform movements.

Katz recently spoke at a local Board of Education meeting to express her less-than-subtle views on what the board is doing versus what the board should be doing. To say she is not a fan of PARCC is a grotesque understatement, one which cannot compete with the volume at which she speaks to the community on a daily basis.

Katz, an 18-year old who recently finished her freshman year as an Urban Elementary Education major at TCNJ, looks and acts like any other college student. But then comes her eloquent, wise-beyond-her-years speech to accompany a perfectly tabbed, highlighted, and labeled binder of educational statistics and testimonies against PARCC testing. Said binder is “one of six”, she explained.

Having graduated from high school and not yet begun a professional career in teaching, Katz is stuck in a disconnected limbo of sorts, one may say. She chooses to see it differently.

“I love [that] I’m in a really unique position that allows me to speak out and say what I want without really having any consequences because I’m in that in-between stage,” Katz said. “I’m trying to take advantage of it.”

So the question arises: what causes this non-student, non-teacher, former Viking to hold such adamant, fervently-expressed beliefs about education here?

“I may not be teaching yet, but the day I step into a classroom,” said Katz, “ ‘effective’ is going to decide whether I keep my job or not.”

She refers to “effective” as a “buzzword reformers like to use” to determine a teacher’s worth to the system as a whole, and so begins her long list of issues with reformers in the educational world, South Brunswick’s board included.

“I am trying to get our board to be more vocal and take a stance on the many issues in education,” said Katz.

She then began to explain the many, many, many issues with education, most of which slip right under the noses of those with the most power to resolve them, she said.

“What you see a lot across the country is boards of education are not the most educated people on education. They’re usually business people,” said Katz, “Not just our board [but] boards everywhere, need to start educating themselves on what’s going on because they’re making decisions that impact every single child in this [district] and around the state and around the country.”

The concept of reform in education is evident nationwide. The rise of PARCC as the latest educational standard has provoked an abundance of criticism and controversy throughout the United States.

“The whole reform movement is coming from all sides,” said Katz, “It’s coming from Republicans and it’s coming from Democrats and conservatives and liberals… It’s parents and students and teachers, and in some cases principals, and in some cases superintendents and districts standing up and saying, ‘This is not what we want for our kids. This is not what real education is.’”

To understand PARCC and Melissa’s opposition to it, it is important to understand the motives under which reformers operate. According to a global report conducted by the education firm Pearson in 2012, the United States ranks 17th in the developed world for education as a whole: 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading, as reported by The Huffington Post on November 27, 2012.

The United States, under the pressure of upholding its prestigious global reputation, has broken into a hysteria, she said, incapacitated by the idea that the US is not the best and the brightest.

A commonly overlooked factor, though, is the child poverty levels in each respective country. Finland, for example, leads in education according to the 2012 study, but also ranks as the country with the lowest relative child poverty rate. Merely 5% of children aged 0-17 in Finland are living in households with incomes below 50% of the national median, according to a UNICEF study alluded to by The Washington Post. The United States has a whopping statistic of nearly 25% of children suffering in that respect.

“In urban districts you see lower test scores and it’s not because they’re not smart. Kids in urban districts are dealing with poverty,” said Katz.

Educators and boards are tangled in a web of statistics and confounding variables that prove that education is as affected in the world as it is effective in shaping the future. Nevertheless, these global comparisons relentlessly rely on Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, and PISA scores alone, to determine who takes the lead in this academic race.

PISA, sponsored by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is a test conducted every three years which assesses 15 year olds’ capabilities in the areas of reading, mathematics, or science. Over 28 million students from 65 countries were assessed in 2012. The next PISA testing will test students on science in 2015, according to

According to a letter written against PISA as reported by Deseret News, “PISA has ‘assumed the power to shape education policy around the world,’ using ‘tests widely known to be imperfect.’”

Now this reliance on testing and scores approaches South Brunswick in the form of PARCC, stripping students of the safety and comfort of their hometown. Because, apparently, it no longer takes a village, but rather standardized tests and scantron sheets to raise a child, and South Brunswick’s participation in pilot PARCC testing only propels this idea, according to Katz.

Recently, she left her audience with a strong message after her speech at the Board of Education meeting on May 19, saying, “The kids in this community are not guinea pigs for the state, corporations, big businesses, and venture philanthropists to experiment on.”

The students of SBHS agree. South Brunswick senior Chelsea Richardson said, “Pilot testing is funded by corporations that are not made up of teachers or educators, but of people who are trying to make a profit off of the education system. Their intention is not to create a valid measure of intelligence.”

As Katz said, “Our test scores basically define our education, nowadays. If you break it down by poverty levels, the United States generally outperforms every nation in the world, but no one wants to say that. Because if the schools aren’t failing, they can’t implement their reforms. You have to sell the tale of failure.”

Katz persistently works to unmask supposedly helpful programs in place in public schools. Organizations such as Teach for America claim themselves to be vigilantes avenging educational decline, but Katz sees the situation differently.

“It is a fundamentally flawed program,” she said.

Katz is currently enrolled in a five-year undergraduate program to prepare her for teaching in urban districts. A Teach for America alter ego would receive merely five weeks of training before entering an urban district.

Her passionate attitude holds a strong social presence, both physically and electronically. Katz frequently utilizes Facebook as “an activism tool”, as she describes it. She posts on her personal page and is an active member of the Facebook group, “SB Cares About Schools” which recently reached 500 members.

“I post about 50 articles a day,” said Katz, “I’m surprised everyone hasn’t unfriended me.”

But her efforts are sensibly and passionately rooted. She spoke fervently about the lack of education about education. Even education majors seem uninformed or misinformed about the policies in place.

“Many of them have never heard of Common Core or PARCC and in a lot of places it’s already in the schools,” said Katz. “It’s here, and there’s a lot of people who don’t know about it.”

Katz maintains a strong presence in the anti-educational reform movement, and it is clear that her efforts have and will continue to extend beyond South Brunswick. Her name no longer refers to just another graduate. She is on her way to becoming a hero to education, by tearing down what education has come to stand for.

“There is an attempt to completely overhaul public education,” said Katz, “and it’s time to fight back.”

State Board of Education Testimony - May 7th, 2014

Testimony: State Board of Education
Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Good afternoon.

My name is Melissa Katz and I am 18 years old. Currently I am a freshman at The College of New Jersey studying Urban Elementary Education. Testifying here was kind of a last minute thing, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to express to you my thoughts on all that is happening in education today. I may not be a teacher with my own classroom yet, but my experience studying education reform over the past year has taught me an immense amount.

We as a nation are selling a false tale of failure. It all began in 1983 with the publication of “A Nation At Risk,” which based on standardized test scores led to the conclusion that our schools were failing, saying that, “We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” This was an extremely over the top piece of propaganda that acted as the beginning of a false narrative of the failure of our schools.

Then we are introduced to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Race to the Top has been even worse than No Child Left Behind in that it does the following: “Teachers will be evaluated in relation to their students' test scores. Schools that continue to get low-test scores will be closed or turned into charter schools or handed over to private management. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired. States are encouraged to create many more privately managed charter schools.”

More and more resources, specifically money, are being thrown into high-stakes standardized testing, and now into computer based testing with PARCC and Common Core. I have worked in the classroom with students on the Chromebooks, and they struggle to even reach the keys on the keyboard, let alone understand and comprehend how to take a standardized test on a computer. I have taken the tests myself and struggled on the third to fifth grade portion. Another issue is tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, because this will lead to teaching to the test and more and more class time being spent on test preparation rather than genuine, real learning and exploration.

The public narrative surrounding education is, once again, selling that false tale. Because of people like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee, the public has been convinced that we have horrible teachers who are failing our students. But this is simply not true.

“The reality is that most teachers are accomplishing amazing feats of achievement and motivation with their students every day and what they're able to accomplish is being done despite a "professional environment" of questioning belittling and self-doubt due to accountability measures and evaluation systems we had no stake in even creating. 

...The truth of education policy is that it is written and enforced by people who have spent either little or no time in the classroom with the students these very policies are affecting.

Education is the only industry -- and it's a $750 Billion industry -- that is developing a product without any valid market research from its end users.

Students aren't asked what they want or need. The teachers in the schools aren't asked what would work for their students. The public narrative has to be shifted. The schools and the teachers are not the enemy.

It is the private corporations like Pearson that pay the lobbying groups like ALEC to write these policies and laws that get passed over steak dinners and campaign contributions because of words like "rigor" and "accountability" to perpetuate a bottom line on the heads of our public school children.” 

But none of the things that are happening are by accident. This is a plan by big businesses, corporations, billionaire-philanthropists, and lobbying groups like ALEC to take over what we know as public education and turn it into a for-profit business to benefit companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill.

And to be able to sell all of these falsehoods, we must convince people that education, as it stands, is a failure. The students are failing because they have ineffective teachers in failing schools in failing districts. Now, enter the corporate reformers with their new standards, textbooks, and plans to turn our public schools into charter schools to magically “fix” education.

But the real problem here is not that our students, teachers, or schools are failures. The real problem is that we live in a society where almost 25 percent of students are living in poverty. After the release of the PISA scores, education historian Diane Ravitch reported the following:

“As researchers Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, have noted, there is no general education crisis in the United States. There is a child poverty crisis that is impacting education.

“Here’s one data point worth remembering. When you measure the test scores of American schools with a child poverty rate of less than 20%, our kids not only outperform the Finns, they outperform every nation in the world.

“But here’s the really bad news. Two new studies on education and poverty were reported in Education Week in October. The first from the Southern Education Foundation reveals that nearly half of all U.S. public school students live in poverty. Poverty has risen in every state since President Clinton left office.

“The second study, conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, reveals that poverty — not race, ethnicity, national origin or where you attend school — is the best predictor of college attendance and completion.

“Here’s the catch-22. While the only long-term solution to poverty might be a good education, a good education is seldom available to children living in poverty.”

I would like to know where in the magic equation that predicts college and career readiness are the factors for poverty. Where in that equation do we include the alarming fact that so many students come to school hungry; that so many students don’t know where there next meal is coming from; that so many students are scared to walk to and from school out of fear that they may be shot during their walk. Where is the proof that the Common Core is going to accomplished all that you’ve presented? Where is the research? Common Core is a one-size fits all approach and non-solution to our education issues solely designed to line the pockets of a select few. Poverty is the elephant in the room that no one wants to address. Rather, it is easier to sell that false tale of education failure we have become so familiar with.

But I have hope, because this is just the beginning. Parents, students, teachers, and community members are starting to wake up. Every day there are more and more reports of families refusing the test because they know these high-stakes standardized tests are only a reflection of socioeconomic status and have nothing to do with knowledge, innovation, creativity, and original thinking. I will not be labeled a failure. My teachers will not be labeled as failures. My schools will not be labeled as failures. Nothing is going to deter me from becoming a teacher. I want to be a teacher who instills in my students a sense of community, social justice, and equity. There is nothing more important, especially in urban districts, than a community school. I will do whatever it takes to protect my schools, our schools, from corporate takeover in any form. It is time we demand the following: We must stop closing neighborhood schools. We must stop attacking and scapegoating our educators. We must stop the high-stakes testing madness. And we must fully fund our schools according to the law.

Thank you for your time.

Melissa Katz 

Via Mother Crusader: Guest Post - Melissa Katz Debunks JerseyCAN's Common Core Cheerleading

On June 4th, the State Board of Education convened for another fun round of discussion about the education reforms proposed (and partially implemented already) to drastically change the face of education as we know it. The State Board of Education held (and is still holding – check their website for more dates) public comment/hearings on the re-adoption of the Core Curriculum Content Standards (CCSS) which includes the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in math and language arts, and a proposed overhaul of the science standards to move to the Next Generation Science Standards. While only two women spoke (both representatives of their organizations), the second speaker caught my attention immediately – JanellenDuffy, from a group called JerseyCAN, spoke on behalf of the organization.

JerseyCAN, the New JerseyCampaign for Achievement Now founded in March of 2013, is “a part of 50CAN: the 50-state Campaign for Achievement Now. [They] are a non-profit organization that launched in March 2013, and [they] advocate for a high-quality education for all New Jersey kids, regardless of their address. JerseyCAN is working to create learning environments that best meet every child’s needs by focusing [their] work on starting earlier, expanding choices, aiming higher, cultivating talent and reaching everyone." Former Governor of New Jersey Tom Kean is theco-chair of New Jersey’s branch JerseyCAN’s board.

Executive Director of JerseyCAN Janellen Duffy, as reported by, stated, “We believe in using data to guide decision-making in education, whether it's decisions parents are making about schools or policy decisions that are being made at the state and local level."

Data. It always comes down to data, because in education reform today, if it isn’t quantifiable and measurable, it isn’t important. The impact of outside factors on students and education? Who cares! Poverty? Ha!! Sweep that one right under the rug because no one wants to talk about that elephant in the room! For a deeper analysis on the “data-guided decision-making” process, see JerseyJazzman’s blog post on JerseyCAN.

But for our purposes, let’s break down the testimony given to the State Board ofEducation: Duffy read the full testimony on behalf of JerseyCAN. A few of the points addressed in their testimony stood out:

1. “Now more than ever, higher, consistent standards are needed to help ensure that students have the knowledge needed to succeed in college and careers. The Common Core State Standards incorporate the expectations of both colleges and employers to ensure students are prepared to meet the demands of a 21st century workforce. Furthermore, the Common Core State Standards are internationally benchmarked so that students can compete with their peers in the United States and in countries across the world."

There are clear issues with this statement. According to Sandra Stotsky, who was in charge of the development of the English Standards in Massachusetts, she said the following about the Common Core State Standards:

“How do I know the goal of international benchmarking was abandoned by CCSSI (Common Core State Standards Initiative)? As a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee from September 2009 to August 2010, among the criteria I was asked to sign off on in May 2010 was whether Common Core’s standards were ‘comparable to the expectations of other leading nations.’ Despite making regular requests since September 2009 for evidence of international benchmarking, I received no material on the academic expectations of other leading nations in mathematics or language arts and literature. I was one of the five members of the 23-member committee who declined to sign off after examining the final version of the standards.

I had also done my own research on the matter. Two English-speaking regions (British Columbia and Ireland) indicate far more demanding requirements for the literacy knowledge students need in order to pass a high school exit test or matriculation exam than appear in Common Core’s high school standards."

Dr. Stotsky further speaks on the matterin testimony before the Texas Legislature on the Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) Standards:

"Common Core's 'college readiness' standards for English language arts and reading do not aim for a level of achievement that signifies readiness for authentic college-level work. They point to no more than readiness for a high school diploma (and possibly not even that, depending on where the cut score is set). Despite claims to the contrary, they are not internationally benchmarked. States adopting Common Core's standards will damage the academic integrity of both their post-secondary institutions and their high schools precisely because Common Core's standards do not strengthen the high school curriculum and cannot reduce the current amount of post-secondary remedial coursework in a legitimate way."

2. “Opponents of the standards often claim the Common Core State Standards are a one-size-fits-all approach to education and that the Common Core State Standards encroach on local control. However, these are unfounded assertions. The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum, and they do not dictate lesson plans; they are merely learning goals for each grade level that are based on what skills and knowledge students need to acquire to be successful in college or careers. All decisions about how to teach to meet the goals of the standards will continue to be made by educators at the school and district level."

Again there are clear issues with this statement. As Peter Greene writes in his blog“Curmudgucation:”

“But the Core are copyrighted, and if you want to use them, you must do so as is, with not a single change. States may add up to 15% on top of what's there, but they may not rewrite the CCSS in any way, shape, form, jot, tittle, or squib. States cannot adjust the standards a little to suit themselves. They cannot adapt them to fit local needs. They can't touch them.

Even more importantly (and incredibly) there is NO process for review and revision...

If you found what you considered to be a terrible mistake in the CCSS, there is no place you can call, no office you can contact, no form you can fill out, no appeal process you can appeal to, no meeting of the board you can attend to submit your comment, no set of representatives you can contact with your concern. There is nothing. The CCSS cannot be changed."

3. “JerseyCAN strongly believes that with the proper focus and attention, this misinformation can be addressed and significant challenges will be resolved in a timely manner so schools and districts can fully implement the standards. New Jersey has been and should continue to be a leader in education. Where other states have stumbled, we should learn from their mistakes and forge ahead."

New Jersey has always been one of the top performing states in the country educationally. At a recent state board of education meeting, Bari Erlichson, the Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting at the NJDOE, reported on the 2013 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores. According to Ms. Erlichson, New Jersey students are ‘flat’ in their growth. But a closer look at the data would show that being ‘flat’ isn’t such a bad thing (aside from it being a poor way to characterize our students).


According to a report on the NAEP results from the NJEA, the following conclusions were reached:

Achievement Scores and Growth Are Among the Nation's Best
Looking at all grades and across subject areas for all students, New Jersey’s track record is second in the nation in performance and improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • Source: The Education Trust. Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common CoreJuly 2013. 

Reading Scores Are Among the Nation's Best
No other state in the nation scores statistically higher than New Jersey on the fourth grade or eighth grade Reading Exam. Fourth graders in New Jersey public schools have the 5th highest scores in the nation in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Eighth graders have the second highest.
  • Source: National Center for Education Statistics. A First Look: 2013 Mathematics and ReadingOctober 2013.

Math Scores Are Among the World's Best
In a comparison of New Jersey’s eighth grade NAEP math scores with eighth grade math scores in countries world-wide, New Jersey public school students out-performed all but five Asian countries.
  • Source: National Center for Education Statistics. US States in a Global Context: Results from the 2011NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study. October 2013.

And this is only some of the good news. More on the achievements of New Jersey students can be found in the rest of the article, here:
And after reading all of this information, the New Jersey Department of Education still concludes that our student’s growth is ‘flat.’ If ‘flat’ translates to continually being one of the top performing states in the country and compared internationally, then let them continue to label our students as ‘flat.’

But there’s a reason behind this madness – the New Jersey Department of Education didn’t just pull the word ‘flat’ out of the air – there is a deliberate labeling of our students, teachers, and schools as underperforming and in need of the magical reforms that are proposed to ‘fix’ education. The push for all of these reforms – Common Core State Standards, PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career), TEACHNJ/AchieveNJ for the new teacher evaluations that include student test scores and ‘growth’ (and that’s a whole different conversation) – comes behind the false tale that we are failing. The only way to sell these reforms is to convince the public that there is a huge crisis in education, and we must make drastic changes if we want our students to be ‘college and career ready, and ‘prepared to compete in a 21st century workforce’ (because apparently everyone who has gone through the public school system up to this point have also been complete failures). There absolutely is a crisis here – but it is a manufactured crisis intended to make money for the select few, such as massive testing companies like Pearson, book publishers like McGraw Hill, etc.; and to purposefully break teachers unions, close public schools, and create a system of ‘choice’ and charter schools run by corporate management companies and organizations for one purpose and one purpose only – money. 

Real education? Genuine learning? Expressing creativity and exploring individualism? Nah, as long as we get those test scores up, that’s really all that matters (and did I mention money?).

Quoting that there is ‘misinformation’ out in the public is another tactic used by the reformers. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there in the public. Trust us (the reformers), we have the best interest at heart for students, teachers, and schools. Everything we do is for the students.” Translated: you’re colossally stupid and misinformed, so let us reformers make the decisions that impact every student, teacher, and school despite our complete lack of educational experience. ‘Misinformation’ has recently become one of those infamous buzzwords that the reformers seem to love, along with some of my personal favorites like ‘rigor,’ ‘accountability,’ ‘effective,’ and a slew of other words to convince the public that our schools are failing. Our nation needs all of these reforms – more ‘’rigorous’ standards, only the most ‘highly effective’ teachers – to bring our schools to an internationally competitive level because our students, teachers, and schools have been failures up to this point.
As Jersey Jazzman concludes about JerseyCAN:

This is all about using data in a lame attempt to sow seeds of doubt about New Jersey's outstanding public schools - especially the suburban schools that have, so far, rejected the reformy prescriptions of education officials like Cerf and corporate reform supporters like JerseyCAN.”

Just because a group has a nice-sounding name like the “Campaign for Achievement Now” and an inspirational slogan like “great schools change everything,” never take these things just as they are. Never hesitate to jump in and do research – even just looking around websites and seeing who funds groups like these and who sits on their boards – to become increasingly more educated and informed. Many times groups that claim the public is ‘misinformed’ are misinformed themselves. And many times, they aren’t even misinformed – they just completely ignore evidence and statistics that counter their arguments. Always listen to both sides of an argument, look closely at data, and make conclusions from there. I’ve got my eye on JerseyCAN, and you should too.

Testimony on A-3018 for Education Review Task Force

Good morning,

My name is Melissa Katz and I am 18 years old. Currently I am an Urban Elementary Education major at the College of New Jersey and a student activist around the state. Based off of what I have researched, read, and seen with my own eyes in my local schools, I am very concerned about the direction we are moving in regards to education and the push for education reform. I am personally in a unique situation – I just graduated last year, but I am also on the path towards becoming a teacher in an urban district – and being in this in-between stage gives me an interesting and important perspective. Between my own independent studies and research and also my personal connections with my local schools, I have seen the real impacts of these reforms. If there’s anything I want you to take away from my testimony, it is this: I can sit here and present you with all of the research in the world (some of which I will reference), but this is more than just numbers on a graph and words on paper; these reforms are real, and they have real impacts on our students, communities, teachers, and future teachers. They will be especially detrimental to students in urban communities and aspiring urban education teachers.    

I would like to speak in regards to bill A-3081. Next year, the PARCC high stakes standardized test will replace NJ ASK for all New Jersey public school students. The results of PARCC will be used to punish students, teachers and schools. This bill would stop the punishments and create a taskforce of experts to explore alternative ways of assessing students. The taskforce also would examine the new teacher evaluation system and implementation of the Common Core Standards. More specifically, this task force would review the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in English-Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics, the use of the PARCC assessments, and again the implementation and importantly potential effects of the teacher evaluation system under TEACHNJ and AchieveNJ.

The bill also stipulates that the student growth percentile, a measure of how much a student’s test score has changed relative to other students who have a similar test score history, may not be used in a teaching staff member’s summative evaluation until the task force submits its final report, or two years after the bill’s effective date, whichever occurs later.  Similarly, the bill also states that the assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) may not be used for any accountability provisions, including as the high school graduation requirement, until the task force submits its final report, or two years after the bill’s effective date, whichever occurs later. Also under the bill, a school district would have the option of administering the PARCC assessment online, using a pencil and paper format, or a combination of the two, in the two school years following the bill’s enactment.

Bruce Baker, a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, has done extensive research in response to the student growth objectives (SGO’s) and student growth percentiles (SGP’s). In a report entitled “Deconstructing Information onStudent Growth Percentiles and Teacher Evaluation in New Jersey,” he states the following:

“Teachers in high poverty schools are dealing with children who have initially lower performance as defined by their test scores. Based upon this measure, they will have lower SGP’s, and now we begin the reform process of telling the narrative that these teachers are failing their students and must be replaced with new Teach for America grads who will be sure to magically turn things around and get those scores up!

“There are three ways the state plans to use SGP’s: rating schools for interventions, employment decisions, and evaluating teacher preparation institutions such as colleges and universities. In all of these cases, the use of SGP’s is inappropriate. SGP’s are not designed to determine a teacher’s or a school’s effect on test scores; again, they are descriptive, not causal, measures. Further, the bias patterns found in SGP’s provide a disincentive for teachers to teach in schools with large number of low-income students.”

The main issue here is that there is no concrete research supporting these new reforms. I don’t think you will be able to find a single teacher who believes that test scores should be used in a teacher’s evaluation because there is no research supporting the use of test scores in teacher evaluations will lead to better outcomes for students, let alone better teaching. When teachers know that they are going to be evaluated off of standardized testing – which lends to why they are considered “high stakes” tests – they go against their better judgment and begin teaching to the test. But there’s more than just that – these tests mean nothing in the long run. They are a single snapshot, a single moment in a student’s academic career. As Bruce Baker states in the same report:

“At a practical level, it is relatively easy to understand how and why student background characteristics affect not only their initial performance level but also their achievement growth. Consider that one year’s assessment is given in April. The school year ends in late June. The next year’s test is given the next April. First, there are approximately two months of instruction given by the prior year’s teacher that are assigned to the current year’s teacher. Beyond that, there are a multitude of things that go on outside of the few hours a day where the teacher has contact with a child, that influence any given child’s “gains” over the year, and those things that go on outside of school vary widely by children’s economic status. Further, children with certain life experiences on a continued daily, weekly and monthly basis are more likely to be clustered with each other in schools and classrooms.

“With annual test scores, differences in summer experiences which vary by student economic background matter. Lower income students experience much lower achievement gains than their higher income peers over the summer. Even the recent Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching Project, which used fall and spring assessments, found that “students improve their reading comprehension scores as much (or more) between April and October as between October and April in the following grade. That is, gains and/or losses may be as great during the time period when children have no direct contact with their teachers or schools. Thus, it is rather absurd to assume that teachers can and should be evaluated based on these data.”

The lack of concrete research does not stop with just SGO’s and SGP’s; rather, it extends to all aspects of the reform movement. First, there is no research to suggest that the Common Core State Standards are superior to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education states this best – she writes:

“The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.

“Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?”

Another myth surrounding the Common Core that has been presented to the public is that the standards were adopted voluntarily. But this is simply not true. Most states that adopted the Common Core did so to be eligible to compete for federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funding totaling around $4.35 billion. Because the Obama administration tied receiving a No Child Left Behind waiver to the adoption of Common Core, among many of the other reforms, it was basically mandatory, not voluntary, that the Common Core State Standards be adopted to receive that waiver. Even worse, “the standards were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.”

This is of great concern to me and many other not only because of the issues at face value, but also because New Jersey is and has been for a long time one of the very top performing states in the entire country. This is the perfect transition to PARCC, as at last week’s State Board of Education meeting, Bari Erlichson gave a presentation discussing how amazing PARCC is and how smooth the field tests went. She presented tweets from the public that seemed only positive – perhaps she didn’t look through twitter well enough to see some of the other responses:

@GoogleAppsK12: PARCC testing did not go well today #PARCC
@GarthHolman: Several of my teaching friends did not pass the 7th grade math #PARCC, what is your score? 
There are endless reports of computers freezing, kicking students out, not saving their progress, and kids struggling with working on the computers to know how to use all of the tools to complete the test. For students to develop these “test-taking skills” teachers will have to spend even more class time away from genuine teaching and learning and consequently more time on test preparation.

Now that I have presented some of the evidence, as I said I would, I want to take this to a more personal level, past the graphs and words. All of these reforms, these new tests, and these new evaluations are discouraging young and upcoming teachers from entering the profession, especially in urban districts where there is even a stronger need for the best teachers who are fully committed to their job. Many people are reluctant to go into urban districts in the first place, but these measures are going to make the situation even worse. Students in urban districts generally perform lower on tests due to socioeconomic issues, such as the intense level of poverty, lack of resources and infrastructure, and more personal issues to each such as family issues, hunger, and danger due to the environment of urban districts. How are we going to encourage teachers to go into these disadvantaged districts when they know they are going to be negatively impacted in their evaluations due to student test scores, which as discussed above are a reflection of socioeconomic status and advantage (or lack there of) rather than true ability? It doesn’t make sense that a students’ performance on one day in one moment should have such a big impact on their teachers, let alone themselves. Standardized tests are meant to be a snapshot. We must take a moment, step back, and actually open our eyes to see what is going on. I have worked in the classroom during my volunteer time at my old elementary schools with students on the chromebooks, and they struggle to even reach the keys on the keyboard, let alone understand and comprehend how to take a standardized test on a computer. I have taken the tests myself and I can promise you that I would not pass. The following is a typical question:

“You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, “Energy Story” and “Conducting Solutions,” and viewing a video clip titled “Hands-On Science with Squishy Circuits.”In an essay, compare the purpose of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.

Rebecca Steinitz, a literary consultant, writer, and editor in Massachusetts, has a Ph. D. in English, coaches in urban districts, and has a daughter in seventh grade. Her response to this is as follows:

“I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve been in college and high school classrooms for over 20 years, and for much of that time I’ve trained and coached high school English teachers. I was shocked that the ninth grade test included an excerpt from Bleak House, a Dickens novel that is usually taught in college. I got seven out of 36 multiple-choice questions wrong on the eleventh grade test.”

I urge you to take that step back and slow this all down. It is as if the state is driving a train full speed forward, but you have a whole community standing on the tracks and waving at you to slow the train down as to not hit everyone on the tracks. This has to be slowed down and reviewed extensively before we hurt the kids standing on the tracks. Thank you for your consideration and support of A-3081 today. I also urge the committee to pass A-3079, which bans PARCC like testing on students in grades K through 2, and A-3077 which requires school district to inform parents about the standardized tests their students will take. Assemblymen Rible and Singleton have introduced bills to protect the privacy of student data and I ask for you consideration of those measures that will keep private student information safe from entities that could use the data for unintended purposes.

Thank you.