Citizens Speak Out to Oppose Ill-Considered State School Board Nominees

Politico recently reported that two state senators called it a “dark day” for Trenton when the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nominations of two candidates for the State Board of Education without public interviews. It has been suggested that Governor Christie is purging the board of members that haven’t conformed to his views in the waning days of his administration. Politico reported:

On Thursday, members of the public spoke in defense of Biedron and Fisicaro and suggested they were being used as political pawns.

Darcie Cimarusti, president of the Highland Park school board who said she was not speaking on behalf of her board, noted that Christie has submitted nominations for a number of state school board seats since December, but only those whose nominations would unseat current members are moving forward. The other nominees would fill vacancies, or are current board members being renominated.

“These three are the only three … that are replacing seated board members who have not resigned,” she said. “If that doesn’t give all of you sitting here today pause, I don’t know what will.”

Sue Altman, a member of Save Our Schools NJ, which disagrees with Biedron about the merits of the PARCC assessments, called his potential removal from the board an “aberration.”

“I never thought I would be sitting here and supporting a Christie nomination for school board,” she told the committeee, identifying herself as a liberal Democrat. “While I do not agree with Mr. Biedron on many of the things he was for throughout his tenure … Mr. Biedron has treated us with respect. He has listened.”

The 12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC Test

Just in time for Christmas, we bring you…

The 12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC Test

1. PARCC is poorly designed & confusing

“For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or more than one answer that is correct, or the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written.”


“The tests consist largely of objective-format items (multiple-choice and EBSR). These item types are most appropriate for testing very low-level skills (e.g., recall of factual detail). However, on these tests, such item formats are pressed into a kind of service for which they are, generally, not appropriate. They are used to test “higher-order thinking.” The test questions therefore tend to be tricky and convoluted.  The test makers insist on answer choices all being “reasonable.”  So, the questions are supposed to deal with higher-order thinking, and the wrong answers are all supposed to be plausible, so the test questions end up being extraordinarily complex and confusing and tricky, all because the “experts” who designed these tests didn’t understand the most basic stuff about creating assessments–that objective question formats are generally not great for testing higher-order thinking, for example.” i

2. PARCC’s online testing format is very problematic, particularly for younger students
“In the early grades, the tests end up being as much a test of keyboarding skills as of attainment in [English Language Arts or Math]. The online testing format is entirely inappropriate for most third graders.” i

3. PARCC is diagnostically & instructionally useless
“Many kinds of assessment—diagnostic assessment, formative assessment, performative assessment, some classroom summative assessment—has instructional value. They can be used to inform instruction and/or are themselves instructive.

The results of [the PARCC] tests are not broken down in any way that is of diagnostic or instructional use.

Teachers and students cannot even see the tests to find out what students got wrong on them and why. So the tests are of no diagnostic or instructional value. None. None whatsoever.” i

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
“The tests drive how and what people teach, and they drive much of what is created by curriculum developers…Those distortions are grave. In U.S. curriculum development today, the tail is wagging the dog.” i

6.  PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests undermine students’ creativity and desire to learn
The research on motivation and creativity is very clear: externally imposed punishment and reward systems, like those associated with high-stakes standardized testing, suppress our intrinsic motivation, dramatically undermining creativity and love of learning.

High-stakes standardized tests also suppress motivation and creativity because the endless test preparation narrows the curriculum and creates a boring learning environment, filled with anxiety and fear.

7. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests have an enormous financial cost
“In 2010-11, the US spent $1.7 billion on state standardized testing alone.” With the Common Core State Standards tests, this cost increases substantially.

The PARCC contract by itself is worth over a billion dollars to the Pearson [Corporation] in the first three years, and you have to add the cost of [the Smarter Balanced Common Core Assessment] and the other state tests (another billion and a half?), to that.

No one, to my knowledge, has accurately estimated the cost of the computer upgrades that will be necessary for online testing of every child, but those costs probably run to 50 or 60 billion.

This is money that could be spent on stuff that matters—on making sure that poor kids have eye exams and warm clothes and food in their bellies, on making sure that libraries are open and that schools have nurses on duty to keep kids from dying. How many dead kids is all this testing worth, given that it is, again, of no instructional value?


8. PARCC is completely experimental. It has not been validated as accurate & yet it will be used to evaluate students, schools and teachers
“Standardized test development practice requires that the testing instrument be validated. Such validation requires that the test maker show that the test correlates strongly with other accepted measures of what is being tested, both generally and specifically (that is, with regard to specific materials and/or skills being tested).

No such validation was done for [PARCC and Smarter Balanced common core] tests…So, the tests fail to meet a minimal standard for a high-stakes standardized assessment—that they have been independently validated.” i

9. PARCC & other high-stakes standardized tests are abusive to our children
Reports of students throwing up during high-stakes standardized tests or inflicting harm to themselves as a result of test stress are already common.

PARCC is an intentionally much more difficult test that will increase students’ anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.

PARCC is extra-frustrating to our children because it is entirely on-line, creating additional test-taking challenges not related to the test content.

The combination of the more brutal PARCC tests and the more stressful on-line PARCC testing experience will result in more of our children feeling abused, anxious and afraid.

10. PARCC will worsen the achievement and gender gaps
“Both the achievement and gender gaps in educational performance are largely due to motivational issues, and these tests and the curricula and pedagogical strategies tied to them are extremely demotivating. They create new expectations and new hurdles that will widen existing gaps, not close them.”

PARCC and other Common Core exams “drive more regimentation and standardization of curricula, which will further turn off kids already turned off by school, causing more to tune out and drop out.” i

11. High-stakes standardized tests fail to improve educational outcomes
“We have had more than a decade, now, of standards-and-testing-based accountability under [No Child Left Behind]. We have seen only miniscule increases in outcomes, and those are well within the margin of error of the calculations. Simply from the Hawthorne Effect, we should have seen SOME improvement!!! And that suggests that the testing has actually DECREASED OUTCOMES, which is consistent with what we know about the demotivational effects of extrinsic punishment and reward systems. It’s the height of stupidity to look at a clearly failed approach and to say, ‘Gee, we should do a lot more of them.'” i

12. PARCC and Smarter Balanced Common Core aligned tests are designed to brand the majority of our children as failures
The Smarter Balanced test consortium announced in November that it would use very high cut scores for the test, which would result in more than half of all students labeled as failures.

In third grade, for example, only 38% of students taking the Smarter Balanced test are expected to achieve a proficient score in English and only 39% in math. ii

As numerous testing experts have pointed out, a “cut score” is “NOT an objective measure. It is a judgment call, a matter of group opinion, shaped by assumptions, and it can be manipulated to make scores appear higher or lower, depending on what” those in control want. iii

The PARCC test will set its cut scores next summer, but it is very likely to follow the same pattern, creating a false narrative of failure and causing great harm to our children and our public schools.

ii   Source:
iii  Source:…/how-pearsons-common-core-tests-a…/

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Request to Education Commissioner to Reject Renaissance School Applications in Camden

Save Our Schools NJ requests that Commissioner Hespe reject the Mastery and Uncommon Schools applications for renaissance school projects in Camden because they violate the Urban Hope legislation and regulations.

On May 19th, Save Our Schools NJ, a non-partisan, grassroots organization with more than 18,000 members across New Jersey, sent a letter to the state’s Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe alerting him to multiple violations of the Urban Hope Act and regulations by Mastery Charter and Uncommon Schools Charter in their applications for renaissance school status in Camden, and asking the Commissioner to reject both applications.

Save Our Schools NJ identified three types of violations of the Urban Hope Act in the Mastery and Uncommon Schools applications:

1) The applications fail to propose new renaissance school facilities or to provide the required information about those facilities.

The Urban Hope Act requires the construction of a new school facility or facilities and documentation and assurances related to the location, construction plans, safety and financing of those facilities.  The Mastery and Uncommon applications to the DOE contain none of the required information, documentation and affirmations.

In fact, the applications make clear that they do not include specific school facility projects for approval at all. Mastery, in its application, baldly states that it “is not including a facilities address in this application” and that they “are open to facilities options provided by the District.”  In its application, Uncommon states that “[w]e do not yet have a proposed address for the initial school facility in which Uncommon Camden plans to locate, but can affirm that all Uncommon Camden campus facilities will be located in the required urban campus area.”

2)   The applications fail to provide the required opportunity for public input

The Urban Hope Act mandates that applications for renaissance school projects in State-operated school district such as Camden contain “evidence” that the State District Superintendent convened at least three public meetings to discuss the merits of the renaissance school project.  The application also must contain written public comments received during those meetings. This mandate is essential to ensure that residents, parents and students in those neighborhoods understand the details of the project the district proposes to construct in partnership with the non-profit entity, and how the new school will serve their children, once the project is completed and operational.

The State Superintendent of Camden failed to include any “evidence” of the required public meetings where “the merits” of the projects were presented and properly considered or to submit any written comments on the projects.  This is not surprising as the applications do not contain any of the required information and documentation of the location, description, funding and other elements of the “newly constructed” actual projects as there is no intention by Mastery and Uncommon Schools to build new schools within the time frame required by the Urban Hope Act.

3)  Mastery and Uncommon Schools proposed to house their renaissance schools in temporary facilities, which is not permitted under the urban hope act

In their applications, both Mastery and Uncommon Schools indicated that they intend to partner with Camden in operating schools in temporary facilities, including, in the case of Mastery, an existing and operating Camden public school.  The Urban Hope Act does not allow schools to be operated on a temporary basis in temporary facilities, whether those facilities are in existing Camden public schools or in some other building.

“In light of these multiple violations of the Urban Hope Act and its regulations, we feel the Commissioner must deny the applications by the Camden School District, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools,” said Susan Cauldwell, the Executive Director of Save Our Schools NJ Community Organizing.

Additional Information:

The letter that Camden mailed to parents

The Mastery Charter recruitment flyer that Camden mailed to parents

The letter we sent to the Commissioner on Monday, April 21, 2014

Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the April 14, 2014 letter

Courier Post coverage of the April 14, 2014 letter


Is Camden in Compliance with the Urban Hope Act?

The Christie Administration appointed Camden Superintendent has been taking legally-questionable actions to expedite the privatization of that school district.

With the help of Camden parents and other residents, we have been documenting those actions and asking NJ’s Acting Commissioner of Education, David Hespe to investigate them.

Here is the second letter we mailed to Commissioner Hespe yesterday. The first can be found here.

April 21, 2014

Commissioner David C. Hespe
New Jersey Department of Education
100 River View Plaza
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Commissioner Hespe,

As a follow-up to our April 14, 2014 letter, we wish to bring to your attention additional actions by the State Operated Camden School District (Camden) that raise serious concerns about Camden’s compliance with the Urban Hope Act and regulations, and with other laws.

1) Temporary facilities are not allowed under the Urban Hope Act

We remain very concerned that, although their application to build such schools has yet to be approved by your office, Camden is moving forward to facilitate the enrollment of Camden public school students in September, 2014 in “temporary” schools, to be operated by the Mastery and Uncommon organizations and located in existing Camden public schools, ostensibly as Renaissance Schools under the Urban Hope Act.

In passing the Urban Hope Act, the legislature was very clear that Renaissance Schools cannot operate as temporary schools in temporary facilities, but rather must be in a “newly-constructed” school. The legislative statement to the Urban Hope bill, issued by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on January 5, 2012, states on page 3 that “[t]he committee amended the bill to: … clarify that renaissance school projects are newly-constructed schools.”

Yet, Camden is planning to locate both Mastery and Uncommon Schools Renaissance schools in existing public school buildings, for the 2014-15 academic year.

The attached letter, which was mailed by Camden to public school parents, states:

“Mastery School of Camden will open this fall in two temporary locations for approximately 600 kindergarten through 5th grade students:

-At PynePoynt Family School, Mastery Academy will serve up to 380 new K-5 Students.

-At the old Washington School, Mastery Academy will serve approximately 220 K-2 students.”

These types of schools — to be operated by a charter management organization and located temporarily in existing public school facilities — are clearly not authorized under the Urban Hope Act. Accordingly, we request that you immediately investigate whether Camden has authorized Mastery and Uncommon to operate schools under the Urban Hope Act in 2014-15 on a temporary basis in existing Camden school facilities and, if so, take prompt action to direct Camden to terminate this arrangement.

2) Public school districts should not advocate for specific private entities

The letter quoted above, which Camden sent to public school parents, included the attached solicitation flyers for the Mastery charter school chain.

The use of Camden personnel and resources to encourage public school students to attend the privately managed Mastery school would constitute inappropriate use of school funds to promote — and give preferential treatment to — a specific private organization.

We request that you investigate the extent to which Camden’s public school resources were used in mailing Mastery recruitment flyers to parents.

The investigation also should ascertain why it appears that Mastery was the only charter organization in Camden to be given direct assistance by the Camden School District for 2014-15 enrollment recruitment activities.

3) Camden cannot share confidential student data with individual private entities

Camden parents who live in the area from which Mastery plans to draw for its unapproved Renaissance school also indicated that Mastery representatives came to their homes to encourage them to enroll their children in the Renaissance school.

This raises serious concerns about whether Camden disclosed individual student records and information to a third party entity without the consent of the students and their parents and guardians.

We request that your Office launch an immediate investigation into how Mastery, a private entity, obtained the addresses of Camden students for purposes of conducting unannounced visits to students’ homes. This investigation should examine whether Camden provided Mastery with students’ home addresses — or any other individual student information — without the consent of parents and guardians.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this further.

The letter that Camden mailed to parents

The Mastery Charter recruitment flyer that Camden mailed to parents

The letter we sent to the Commissioner on Monday, April 14, 2014

Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the April 14, 2014 letter

Courier Post coverage of the April 14, 2014 letter

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