Wendell Steinhauer, NJEA President
Testimony before Assembly Education Committee on A-3081
Thursday, May 15 2014

Good morning.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify.  I’m Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association.

For some time now, NJEA has raised serious concerns about problems with some aspects of the implementation of the Common Core, specifically with the related PARCC testing and the new teacher evaluation system that incorporates students’ test scores into their teachers’ evaluations.  We’ve asked the Legislature, the State Board of Education and the New Jersey Department of Education to “slow down and get it right” in regard to these significant changes.  We have not been alone in identifying problems and asking for relief.

Today, I want to thank the sponsors of A-3081 for hearing our concerns, as well as the concerns of a broad range of stakeholders in the public education community.  I’m here to speak in support of A-3081 and to ask you to move quickly to pass it.

Our greatest concern right now is the rushed implementation of the PARCC testing.  I know that if you ask the Department of Education, you’ll get a very rosy assessment of this spring’s limited field trial.  But the binder I have here, and that I’ve given to each of you, tells a very different story.  It contains more than 100 letters from NJEA members with firsthand knowledge of how the trial really played out.

One reports that the audio portion of the tests didn’t work for some students in her school.  Another reports that student answers were lost when they clicked to a new text box after finishing their previous answer.  Another reported that his students were confused by what an “essay” or “short essay” entailed, with some writing just a few lines and others thinking they needed 4-6 paragraph answers for each question.  And that’s just in the first three pages.

Skim the rest of the book to read about crashing computers, unclear instructions, lost student work, and a host of other problems.  We must not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that New Jersey is anywhere near ready to roll these tests out on a statewide basis, with exceedingly high stakes, next year.

Perhaps the most powerful theme throughout the letters is the teachers’ concern about the significant loss of instructional time.  That’s a well-founded concern.  On average, the amount of time spent on standardized testing would double under PARCC.  With parents already up in arms about the current testing load, you can imagine the dismay when there is twice as much.

Before we go further, we must determine whether the huge investment of time and resources required to implement PARCC can be justified educationally.  There is growing evidence that it cannot.

A recent policy statement by the American Statistical Association strongly advised that education policymakers exercise great caution when using Value Added Models or Growth Models such as the one proposed to calculate SGPs in New Jersey.  They note many weaknesses in that approach, especially at the level of individual teachers.  I would strongly encourage you to read that policy statement, and I have provided copies along with my testimony.

That’s not a group with a vested interest either way.  They simply looked at the data models and concluded that some of their current uses don’t hold up under scrutiny.  Add their conclusion to a long list of studies that provide more-than ample reason to question the use of student test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Before we put students’ education and educators’ careers on the line over standardized tests, shouldn’t we at least be sure that they measure what they claim to measure?

That is why this bill’s establishment of a study commission is so critically needed in New Jersey.  Right now, we are on a course toward certain failure in our implementation of Common Core, PARCC testing and teacher evaluation.  We cannot afford to let that happen.

Our frequent pleas to the Department of Education to look into these issues and make common sense adjustments have been rejected because, they tell us, the current legislation requires them to push forward on an expedited timeframe regardless of the clear problems that have emerged.

You have the chance to change that.  Amend the law and give all of us in the education community the opportunity to do the right thing.

And let me leave you with one last thought: if we don’t all work together to fix this, parents very well may take matters in their own hands.  If you’ve been following the news on standardized testing, you know that there is a growing wave of parents who are simply opting their children out of testing altogether.  They are fed up with the growth and misuse of standardized tests, and disgusted with how it is perverting their children’s educational experience.

Thousands of families in Long Island refused to allow their children to participate in New York’s testing this spring.  Some reports said as many as 33,000 students across New York opted out.  Opt out sentiment is growing in cities like Seattle and Chicago, but also in places like Texas.  It’s a phenomenon that has started to reach New Jersey as well.

If we continue to pursue a testing agenda that takes up too much time and appears to have little educational value, we will lose the confidence of parents.  We cannot afford that.

So I urge you to pass this legislation.  Make it explicitly clear to the Department of Education that it not only has the opportunity but also the directive to slow down its headlong rush to implement PARCC for next year.  Send a clear message that you expect the Department to learn more about these tests

Thank you.