Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Testimony before the Board of Ed on PARCC

Good morning. My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick, and I am a member of the Worcester School Committee. I also serve as Vice Chair of the Urban division of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
I come to you this morning, first of all, with some questions:

On what legal authority is the Commissioner resting his decision that districts must pilot the PARCC? I can find nothing in Mass General Law that allows for this authority, and I would appreciate understanding from whence it comes.
*With whom does the decision to opt in or out of any testing (MCAS or PARCC) ultimately rest? is it an administrative (management) action? or is it a School Committee (policy) action?
*Next year, who will make the decision regarding which test to take: the superintendent? the school committee? the state? What provision will be made for public input on that decision? And when will this decision be made?
I come to you today something of an agnostic on the PARCC exam: it may well be better than the MCAS exam (of which I have never been a fan), but it still isn’t the “comprehensive accountability system” for which the law calls, nor does it take advantage of the technology being used in a way that even the SMARTER exam does. It also isn’t needed to adapt to the Common Core, as your own website comments that the MCAS is fully adapted to beginning this spring.
I will say, however, that the only people who believe that the commitment to PARCC is not already set may well be sitting in this room. Our commissioner chairs the consortium; the die is cast, and, couched as a two year tryout or not, we’re switching exams.
With that in mind, therefore, I would ask that you do what is actually a multi-year rollout in a reasonable fashion, which is not that presented today for your consideration.
First, as much as no one wishes to talk about funding, I think it is important to point out that PARCC was funded by the federal government to the tune of $186 million, of which not one red cent is going towards implementation. That’s frankly insane. The state has been unwilling to discuss funding the technology needed: DESE passes the buck to MSBA, who (rightfully) point out that they build schools, not fund computers or technology support. The federal government also has not increased Erate as needed. Thus the cost of implementation will fall, once again, on the districts.
In Worcester, we will need to spend $50,000 on headsets alone. We will also need to increase our bandwidth to the tune of somewhere around $93,000 A YEAR (to ensure that our whole system doesn’t crash with the increased traffic). If we’re not going to shut our students into sweltering computer labs in May (when it can reach 90 degrees in Massachusetts), we’re also going to need to look at adding air conditioning to those rooms, if nothing else.
That money will, again, come from our budgets, budgets which we can foresee are going to be increasing at a rate well below real inflation. Thus we will take money from teachers, from school repair, and from student supplies, to provide for this testing.
A reasonable rollout would include funding for implementation. I would recommend that the consortium turn to the federal government, point out that this was their bright idea, and if they want anything to come of it, they will offer funding to implement it at--and this is key--AT THE SCHOOL LEVEL. You are absolutely going to devastate school budgets otherwise.
Second, as districts feel their hands are tied with regards to accountability levels, teacher evaluation, and other issues with which MCAS scores are tied, the “opt out” of classes piloting PARCC is not a true opt out. It is clear that superintendents do not trust that their districts will be held harmless (and who can blame them?). Moreover, the state’s relentless drive to make “data” the be-all and end-all has meant that we now have district personnel that are under the impression that we somehow are blind without a state mandated test. Thus rare is the district that feels it can avail itself of the purported “opt-out” offered by the state.
Instead, statewide, put on hold the accountability system for Massachusetts for three years. It is going to be a hash beginning this year, anyway, once we either remove or double-test kids; moving to two tests, followed by a completely new test for half the kids will continue the mayhem. We need to freely acknowledge this, be reasonable about it, be PUBLIC about it , and stop pretending that these numbers are going to mean anything.
Otherwise, we are left, in Worcester, with:
ten additional hours of testing for two classes of third graders at Canterbury Street and two classes of sixth graders at Quinsigamond Elementary School;
eight additional hours of testing for two classes of third graders at Jacob Hiatt and Woodland Academy and two classes of fourth graders at City View;
...and I could go on; I have submitted the full list attached to my written testimony.
We are foolish if we think that this does not affect these children. First, you have removed that many hours of instruction from these children’s school lives. When they do take the MCAS, they will have that many fewer hours of instructional time. For a state which mandates the number of hours of instructional time, and from an administration that has been loathe to waive school days even in times of state emergency, this is hypocritical.
I also wonder if any of you here have a child who has ever take the MCAS (I wish I did not have to wonder this about my Board of Ed). Did your child have nightmares? stomachaches? headaches? bouts of tears of sleeplessness? Mine have.  Many children across the state have. And we want to do this FOUR times this year, rather than two?
Regardless of who opts out of which, this is also that many more testing days this year. That means silent hallways, scrambled lunch periods, no field trips, no visitors in the buildings, libraries (and now) computer labs off limits...schools go into lockdown, essentially. Is this the sort of educational experience you want for Massachusetts students?
Because that’s the thing, Madame Chair: these are actual children in your schools. These are not data points, and these are not guinea pigs brought in for the convenience of Pearson (a corporation well equipped to fund its own field testing without need for Massachusetts to upset its entire education system for their benefit).
Most of all, please do not simply approve this today with the idea that the decision is two years off. It is not. Districts are scrambling NOW on this issue, and they feel entirely unheard by the Board of Education. Slow down. Think about the implications of what you are doing to those of us on the ground, and most particularly, to the children involved. Don’t simply move forward today

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