NJEA: budget cuts, testing taking a toll

‘An impending explosion of testing’

Published on Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reflecting the concerns of teachers and parents alike, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) today aired two TV ads addressing the impact of deep budget cuts and what NJEA President Barbara Keshishian sees as “an impending explosion of standardized testing.”

The ads feature Port Republic elementary teacher Erica Polito and Trenton elementary teacher Talithea Briggs, who speak as both teachers and parents.

In “Cuts,” Briggs explains the continuing impact of nearly $1.3 billion in cuts to state education aid during Gov. Christie’s first year in office, which meant “larger class sizes, fewer computers, and less money for books and materials.”  Briggs also notes that in this year’s state budget, a number of districts only got $1 more in state aid.

“What are our kids supposed to do with a dollar?” she asks.

In “Tests,” Polito tackles an issue that is affecting classrooms across New Jersey.

“Students are spending more and more time on high-stakes standardized testing,” Polito tells viewers.  “It’s so sad to see Governor Christie turning our schools into test-taking factories,” she adds, referring to the Department of Education’s determination to massively expand the number of tests students will be taking in more subjects and more grades in the years to come.

“Our children are so much more than a test score,” Polito says, “and it’s time Governor Christie learned that.”

Both spots are airing as part of NJEA’s Pride in Public Education program, which was launched in 1994 to inform parents and the public about the achievements of New Jersey’s public schools and the challenges they face.

“Our public schools are still at or near the top in the nation, but not all is well right now,” said Keshishian.  “Our schools continue to do a great job against tall odds, but teachers and parents are becoming increasingly distressed about the impact of deep budget cuts and an impending explosion of standardized testing.”

Last spring, Keshishian authored a column in the Newark Star-Ledger detailing NJEA’s concerns with the over-use of standardized testing to evaluate and even dismiss teachers.

“All respected research says that is flawed policy,” Keshishian said.  “Students and their teachers shouldn’t have their futures determined by an over-reliance on standardized tests, because we know that two-thirds of the factors affecting test scores occur outside the classroom, and in the home or the community.”

Equally troubling, Keshishian said, is mounting student anxiety about test-taking, and parents are concerned that the focus on tested subjects is narrowing the curriculum, while forcing teachers to “teach to the test.”

 “Ask any teacher, and they’ll tell you they are spending way too much time on preparing students for standardized tests,” Keshishian said.  “We are missing the whole point of education with this singular focus on test scores, and our students are being short-changed as a result.”

The ads will run in both New York and Philadelphia markets, as well as on New Jersey cable networks.

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