Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Response to SB Superintendent

At the last South Brunswick Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jelling came to the podium for about 10 minutes to give a short speech on PARCC, testing, and opting-out. I recorded his short speech, which can be seen below (the link should bring you right to the video). After coming home from the meeting unsatisfied (to say the least) with a lot of what he said, I decided to go through and break down his main points. 

Video of speech:
**Video is not working at the moment. I am working on converting the file to a smaller size to be able to upload right into blogger. Thank you for your understanding. 

Breakdown of points:
“Something that we are going to administer to so many students across so many states.”
Blogger Mercedes Schneider has been following the Common Core/PARCC debate closely, and has broken down the PARCC attrition from 2011-2014. I recommend reading her entire piece with detailed explanations here. A main quote to sum up the article: “PARCC exited the 2011 starting gate with 24 states plus DC. By the close of 2014, PARCC states actually and legitimately contracted with Pearson for its PARCC assessments is less than half the initial 2011 count.”
Here, we then must ask ourselves: why are so many states having reservations about PARCC and common core? Why are so many well-respected academics raising questions about the tests and the standards?
“...criticism in terms of who framed the PARCC, and Pearson is the entity that seems to be credited/blamed depending on your bend... and I think... that’s a specious argument, it just doesn't hold water. Pearson has been doing business in this district for decades and decades, and the idea that the imposition of private equity and entrepreneurship in education is a bad thing just completely ignores the truth... I absolutely reject that on its face.”
First, just because a company has been doing business for “decades and decades” doesn't mean that all of their products are good for students.
Well, look here! A piece written on December 15, 2014 by Alan Singer states the following: “Pearson Education is closing its foundation; it is under investigation by the FBI for possible insider dealings in the Los Angeles iPad fiasco; the company is being sued by former employees for wrongful termination; and its PARCC exams are losing customers.” Again, absolutely a piece to read in its entirety. Also, another point of clarification: this isn’t private equity. Rather, this is a product sold to districts. If Pearson invested 100 million of its own money into the districts to create personalized exams, that would be a different story, but not the case here.
“It doesn’t impact what we do here on a school level.”
This is completely untrue. Because of the high-stakes association of these tests, teachers are being forced to “teach to the test,” kids are learning “test taking skills,” and classroom instruction is being aligned to prep students for the tests. Ask your kids, ask any teachers who are willing to speak on this (search Mark Weber - Jersey Jazzman, Ani McHugh - TeacherBiz, and Marie Corfield for more on this), or do some research about “teaching to the test.” You will find things like art, music, social studies, science, and even recess being cut because they aren't tested, and that time is needed for test prep.
Save Our Schools New Jersey, “a grassroots, all-volunteer organization of parents and other public education supporters who believe that every child in New Jersey should have access to a high-quality public education,” recently released a guide titled, “12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC test.” Some of their main points include the following:
1. PARCC is poorly designed & confusing
2. PARCC’s online testing format is very problematic, particularly for younger students
3. PARCC is diagnostically & instructionally useless
**4. Taking and preparing for PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests is replacing learning
Administrators at many schools “report that they spend as much as a third of the school year preparing students to take these tests. That time includes the actual time spent taking the tests, the time spent taking pretests and benchmark tests and other practice tests, the time spent on test prep materials, the time spent doing exercises and activities in textbooks and online materials that have been modeled on the test questions in order to prepare kids to answer questions of those kinds, and the time spent on reporting, data analysis, data chats, proctoring, and other test housekeeping.” i
5. PARCC will further distort curricula and teaching
6.  PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests undermine students’ creativity and desire to learn
7. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests have an enormous financial cost
8. PARCC is completely experimental. It has not been validated as accurate & yet it will be used to evaluate students, schools and teachers
9. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests are abusive to our children
10. PARCC will worsen the achievement and gender gaps
11. High-stakes standardized tests fail to improve educational outcomes
12. PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core aligned tests are designed to brand the majority of our children as failures
Read the entire document with detailed points of research under each point here, and explore around their website for more information and resources.
“This is the way we will glean data on our children.”
As I commented on the original video, many people know that these tests are not going to tell us anything we don't already know. About anything. There is no point the district can make for these tests other than "collecting the data." Sorry, but I don't view my kid a data point for anyone to "data mine." The teacher knows my student best, and there is no data that will tell them what they don’t already know - where students strengths are, where they need improvement, etc. Teachers spend all day with them, and through authentic, teacher-created assessments, teachers can see how individual students, as well as the class as a whole, are understanding and further demonstrating their understanding of the material.

“What do you think about PARCC? I’m agnostic.” - then later: “I am pro-compliance, and I’m pro data.”

The contradiction here comes when Dr. Jellig says he is pro-data & then goes on to say, "Well, if it doesn't work out the way they say then we will question." So, are we okay with not validating the tests "work" before we experiment on kids? He should be saying "show me the data before you try out your test on our kids." - especially with high stakes associations for students, teachers, and schools; not the other way around.

“This test has flexibility...”
Later on, Dr. Jellig states, “There wasn't a menu given to us as there was with AchieveNJ. PARCC is what’s for dinner! The state said here is your assessment, administer it well.” So in all honesty, I’m struggling to see where the “flexibility” - in either the tests themselves or the administration of the tests - is to be found.
“We get 24 million from the state. I don’t want to give it back.” Dr. Jellig then goes on to say he doesn't want to suggest that the failure to comply might result in backlash from the state, but then adds, “it could happen, but I don’t expect it to happen.”
This is more of a clarification point. FairTest recently released a guide called “Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School.” Here are some main points:
NCLB says that 95% of students must take the test or the school will fail to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) and then suffer sanctions. However, this provision is now essentially irrelevant.
First, schools that do not receive federal Title I funds are exempt from sanctions under NCLB. Those schools are labeled as not making AYP, but NCLB does not require a state to do anything to them.
Second, 41 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico) have waivers from the U.S. Department of
Education (ED) that have eliminated the sanctions imposed on most schools that fail to make AYP. The basic message is that in waiver states, a school not in or close to the bottom 5% likely has nothing to fear from a boycott. However, a school that is at or close to the bottom 5% would be advised to proceed with caution – parents may not want to increase the likelihood of severe sanctions (staff firings, turning it into a charter school) by having both very low scores (or, depending on the state, low rates of score increases) and many opt outs.
Third, in states without a waiver, every school must now have 100% of its students score “proficient.” As a result, almost all schools are “failing” and face possible sanctions. But if a school is already failing, there is no additional danger from a boycott.
In addition, the 95% rule does not pertain to any tests other than reading and math exams mandated by NCLB. Separate tests used to judge teachers in other subjects as well as other state or district-mandated tests are not covered by this requirement.
There may be some risk for some schools due to the 95% rule. But for the great majority of schools, including Title I schools, the risk is non-existent or minimal and should not be a reason to avoid boycotts.
Here is the entire guide. Their website has incredible resources on these topics, and I encourage you to explore around.
“I will also tell you that when the first cut of data comes back... we will take our time and thoughtfully digest and reflect every aspect of what we receive to determine its usefulness.”
Cut scores are not yet set. So discussing how all of this data is going to be the best data we ever retrieved or all of the amazing things we are going to do with this data makes no sense. We don’t even know what “passing” on the PARCC test is, and the state is not going to set this “cut score” - passing score, possibly what proficient is (again, we don’t know how this will be scored) - until AFTER the first test. So essentially, the state will look at the test from March/May of this year, and then over the summer decide how many kids fail, and how many pass. There should be absolutely no high stakes - for students, teachers, or schools, attached to this test. As Mark Weber, public school teacher and part time doctoral student in education policy at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (who blogs as ‘Jersey Jazzman’) writes, “Why are we attaching high stakes to PARCC before we have even seen how it works when it is fully implemented? The fact is that we just don't know how it went, or whether it will go well in a year. We just don't know. We need to properly assess this field test, then run a no-stakes administration across the state with data and results open to the public so the PARCC can be properly vetted.” See more here.
“But to do that now (“reach out and say this test isn’t what was promised”)... I feel like there’s almost a bullying mentality going on. We don’t know PARCC; we don’t anything about it because it hasn't actually happened.
Saying there’s a “bullying” mentality is a far reach. The current “reform” culture in education is extremely oppressive to students and teachers, where top-down mandates are employed in a “do what you’re told or else” system. Bullying doesn't work from bottom up; it’s called resistance - and clearly there is a reason for it. Concerned parents, teachers, and students are asking the questions and raising concerns that impact THEIR education and educational experience. If we don’t know anything about PARCC - which we don’t - why are putting so much faith in another high stakes test? Why are we putting our faith in the same reforms that have so-to-speak “failed” education in the past? Why are we allowing such high stakes associations be tied to a test that is untested and unproven? Read here about what happened in New York after they implemented a common core aligned Pearson test.
Here you may say, “We've had standardized testing for so long, what other alternatives are there?” Well, there are. Read the following:

“Lastly, with regards to opt out, which has been a topic of conversation... there is no opt out. The state laid out no opt out and we don’t tend to either.”
Just to point out - wording is important. Notice how Dr. Jellig continually says "no opt-out." He is correct that there is no opt-out law *in New Jersey (As Choose to Refuse NJ ( states, “l) California is [one of the] only state that has official “opt out” policies. Therefore, it is likely that unless you live in California (or Pennsylvania using religious exemption to opt out) if you write a letter requesting to ‘opt your child out’ you will receive a letter stating they cannot honor your request because there is no opt out clause. Make sure to state that you are REFUSING to allow your child to participate in the testing.”) But parents have a legal right TO REFUSE THE TEST. REFUSE. Wording is important. Parents have a right to choose to not to have their children be guinea pigs for essentially Pearson’s untested and unproven tests. The state may have no policy on opt out, but they also can't force a kid to take a test. Parents have a right to refuse. Many letter circulating with information, groups like "United opt-out" (because some states use that language).
According to the U.S Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children." Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399). in recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158).
The members of our district deserve to know the truth, and deserve to see the full picture when making educational decisions for their - our - children.


  1. Nice work pulling all the pieces together, Mel. What a waste of scare taxpayer resources. Not sure who to be more worried about, the students or the teachers.

  2. This is a great post and I hope to read all the links you have in this post. I am really worried about whether my school will be testing with PARCC or with the SBAC. Do you know much about the SBAC consortium and the first round of tests for it? I work with Native American students who have enough trouble right now for proficiency targets with the NWEA MAP tests. From my research on adoption of the Common Core, it seems that no particular test is required of the states which adopt the standards? At least this the verbiage from the frequently asked questions on the Common Core website.

    1. Thanks so much! New Jersey is a PARCC state so I am not as well-versed in issues surrounding SBAC. Mercedes Schneider is an incredible writer/researcher & wrote about it here: I would look up her research & read through Diane Ravitch's blog to see other posts regarding the topic. Best of luck! - Mel

  3. How would these tests worsen the achievement gap? Or would they mainly report an existing achievement gap? So what, some students learn better than others.

    All we can do is the best for each student (including the top ones, don't hold them back to decrease the gap!) and whatever the group results are, that's what they are.

    If teachers feel bullied by something they can't control, welcome to the real world everyone else experiences. Everyone else is assessed all the time in ways predictable and unpredictable. Do your best and hope for the best, it should be that way for teachers as it is for the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

    1. Go to this site and take a practice test. It's absolutely absurd. Take the 4th grade test and imagine yourself as a 4th grader. I feel badly for the children. They are being used like mice in a lab and it's all to make those at Pearson a whole lot of money.

  4. So bullying is okay because everybody gets bullied? Really, that's your way to defend a system that is systematically designed to label most students and teachers as failures? At least in the "real" world, you know what you will be evaluated on. Teachers and students don't even know what it takes to pass this test.

    These tests will worsen the so-called achievement gap because the tests are designed to be more difficult, using technology that many kids don't have access to on a regular basis, which will test standards that are new and inappropriate for elementary aged students. Students, teachers, and schools will be labeled as failures, students will be forced to take remedial test-prep classes that are use curriculum designed by Pearson, who designed the test and who helped write the standards. It is a downward spiral and the only people who will benefit from this are charter schools and textbook publishers -- and testing companies.

    1. Wonderful comment. Thank you for taking the time to share these thoughts, & same to Mary Flynn above. I would recommend to "Anonymous" reading Diane Ravitch's "Reign of Error" to begin & then looking at some history of the privatization movement in education. There is a lot of reading/research available.

    2. The tests are more difficult because the standards have been raised. That's one of the main points of the movement to improve our schools. It's a good thing.

      The claim that the standards are developmentally inappropriate has no basis. Organizations keep making these claims in general without looking at specific standards.

      The use of technology is a real concern with PARCC. Having traditional tests, particularly at the lower grades, would be much better. However, the use of technology is being integrated into the functioning of society and the use of computer tests at the higher grades seems reasonable.

  5. Thank you Mel Katz for your passion for education, your dedication in finding the truth, and your willingness to right so many wrongs in education today. (From a retired, very concerned educator)

  6. Mel,

    If you haven't read Noel Wilson's work please do. He has completely obliterated the concepts of educational standards and standardized testing as valid educational practices. See below for a brief summary, but as with reading the cliff notes of a novel, it's always best to read the actual thing, in this case Wilson's never refuted nor rebutted “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at:

    Brief outline of Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” and some comments of mine. (updated 6/24/13 per Wilson email)

    1. A description of a quality can only be partially quantified. Quantity is almost always a very small aspect of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category only by a part of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as unidimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing the descriptive information about said interactions is inadequate, insufficient and inferior to the point of invalidity and unacceptability.

    2. A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place. The only correct logical thing that we can attempt to do is to describe that interaction (how accurately or not is a whole other story). That description cannot, by logical thought, be “assigned/attached” to the student as it cannot be a description of the student but the interaction. And this error is probably one of the most egregious “errors” that occur with standardized testing (and even the “grading” of students by a teacher).

  7. 3. Wilson identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions (epistemological basis) about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge (think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly), the General Frame-think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame-think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame-think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

    4. Wilson elucidates the notion of “error”: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”

    In other word all the logical errors involved in the process render any conclusions invalid.

    5. The test makers/psychometricians, through all sorts of mathematical machinations attempt to “prove” that these tests (based on standards) are valid-errorless or supposedly at least with minimal error [they aren't]. Wilson turns the concept of validity on its head and focuses on just how invalid the machinations and the test and results are. He is an advocate for the test taker not the test maker. In doing so he identifies thirteen sources of “error”, any one of which renders the test making/giving/disseminating of results invalid. And a basic logical premise is that once something is shown to be invalid it is just that, invalid, and no amount of “fudging” by the psychometricians/test makers can alleviate that invalidity.
    6. Having shown the invalidity, and therefore the unreliability, of the whole process Wilson concludes, rightly so, that any result/information gleaned from the process is “vain and illusory”. In other words start with an invalidity, end with an invalidity (except by sheer chance every once in a while, like a blind and anosmic squirrel who finds the occasional acorn, a result may be “true”) or to put in more mundane terms crap in-crap out.

  8. 7. And so what does this all mean? I’ll let Wilson have the second to last word: “So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.”

    In other words it attempts to measure “'something' and we can specify some of the 'errors' in that 'something' but still don't know [precisely] what the 'something' is.” The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?

    My answer is NO!!!!!

    One final note with Wilson channeling Foucault and his concept of subjectivization:

    “So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”

    In other words students “internalize” what those “marks” (grades/test scores) mean, and since the vast majority of the students have not developed the mental skills to counteract what the “authorities” say, they accept as “natural and normal” that “story/description” of them. Although paradoxical in a sense, the “I’m an “A” student” is almost as harmful as “I’m an ‘F’ student” in hindering students becoming independent, critical and free thinkers. And having independent, critical and free thinkers is a threat to the current socio-economic structure of society.

    By Duane E. Swacker

  9. If you (or any readers) have any questions concerning the study and its implications please feel free to contact me at: .


  10. Well done. Can you fix the video link?

    1. Video should work now - don't know why it was down. Thanks!

    2. Receiving the following when clicking on link:

      An error occurred while processing your request.
      Reference #50.b62f0660.1420402829.152ace36

    3. It may only work on the computer. The file is too big to upload into Blogger & the video I have is from facebook, so I'm sharing the link there - not the best option, but all I can do. It is working for me; possibly try on another browser?