On Saturday, October 25, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) of Boston jointly sponsored a forum on regimented school testing, starting at 10 am in the Unified Arts Building at Brookline High. The forum featured live experiences with some of the PARCC tests proposed for use in Brookline schools. Participants included Brookline students, parents and teachers and Boston teachers. For this school year, after reviews and public comment, the Brookline School Committee decided against PARCC tests.
Resistance movements: Citizens for Public Schools, founded in 1982, is participating in some resistance movements against charter schools and regimented testing in public schools. Board member Alain Jehlen represented CPS at the Brookline forum. Earlier in the year, he helped organize a forum on charter schools at Madison Park High School in Boston and a forum on high-stakes testing in Northampton.
This year has been a watershed for resistance to regimented testing in public schools. A national movement has been organized by United Opt Out of Miami, FL, and it is starting to have effects. Over half the students recently refused testing at several schools in cities of New York, which has switched to PARCC tests.
Last year Minnesota repealed its testing program for high-school graduation. According to the FairTest organization in Cambridge, this year Alaska and South Carolina repealed their programs and awarded diplomas to students who would have graduated in previous years except for test scores. Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma repealed federally promoted Common Core standards and related testing. Rhode Island enacted a 3-year moratorium on test scores as a graduation requirement. CPS is calling for a similar moratorium in Massachusetts.
PARCC tests: At the recent Brookline forum, most participants investigated PARCC tests using computers in one of the teaching centers, led by Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union. They can also be investigated with practice tests on the Web.
Dr. Jehlen described regimented tests as a source of revenue for test publishers and equipment makers. PARCC is fundamentally computer-based. Many schools, he said, will “buy machines that will fit the test,” whether or not they are otherwise useful. However, he went on, “there’s been so much push-back that Massachusetts may stay with MCAS,” as Brookline chose to do this year.
Reactions: After the session with PARCC tests, Jennifer Rose-Wood, a BEU board member, led a discussion. According to several participants, the PARCC user interface was awkward for experienced users of both Windows and Macintosh computers. It does not follow familiar patterns of either operating system.
A Devotion parent who introduced herself as Hillary said the third-grade language test was “really hard.” She criticized an “infantile story” shown as a basis for questions and said if PARCC tests are used in Brookline schools, she wants to opt out.
A Brookline High student who introduced herself as Camille said she is currently taking calculus and tried the PARCC test for third-grade math. “It was hard,” she said. “The computations are adding and subtracting, but the way you have to get to it is not easy.”
Will, who teaches geometry at Brookline High, said the PARCC geometry test involved “chained problems, much harder than the SAT,” and the “level of language was pretty sophisticated.” Despite a background as a former textbook editor at Houghton-Mifflin, he found could not disentangle problems without using graph paper.
Eric, who teaches English at Brookline High, had similar reactions to the PARCC ninth-grade language test. The SAT questions, he said, “are of much higher quality.” He was “concerned with the resources being spent on these tests” and said, “We need fewer of them.”
The chair of the English department at Brookline High described the PARCC tenth-grade English test as “very difficult in terms of language…difficult to keep focus.” Her biggest concern, she said, was “asking students to write an essay about [language] style…To graduate high school you need to be able to describe style?”
A Brookline High senior who introduced himself as Khaled had tried the PARCC eleventh-grade English test and said he “failed miserably…The questions were just too close–compare and contrast two very similar themes.” By comparison, he said, “MCAS answers were very concise; PARCC answers were misleading.”
Fallout: Ms. Rose-Wood said that state testing was driving Brookline toward “test-centered education…training people to work in call centers.” More colleges are not requiring test scores, she said. “They’re realizing that high scores don’t mean the best students.”
Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member who formerly taught fifth and sixth grade at Driscoll, described how she had been confused by the PARCC user interface. “My goal is to get testing that is fair for the students, that doesn’t take up huge portions of time,” she said. “It concerns me that a state official is on the board of PARCC…that is hugely concerning.” She was obviously referring to Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of education, who chairs the PARCC board–an apparent conflict of responsibility.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 27, 2014
Colleen Quinn, Education official says schools too focused on test preparation, Boston Globe, September 23, 2014
Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014
Joe Nathan, Different standards may have increased Minnesota’s high school graduation rate, Morrison County (MN) Record, February 27, 2014
Caitlin Emma, Mary Fallin signs bill repealing the Common Core in Oklahoma, Politico, June 5, 2014
School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014
School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014
Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014