Video: Camden Study Commission Testimony

Below you will find the links to the videos of the testimony from the public hearings in Camden on February 19, 2015 before Education Commissioner David Hespe and the rest of the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in NJ.

I am proud to have had the opportunity to represent the children of NJ beside such dedicated, informed, and passionate people. The energy in the room far surpassed the number of people, though the turnout was great for 10 am on a freezing cold Thursday. A special thank you to Pem Stanley for videotaping, editing and posting all of the testimony.

(My testimony can be found in Part Three. Here is a link to the text of my speech.)

You can choose to refuse.

Part One

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsqNzcOKA8M

Part Two

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYjLOPPmMJ8

Part Three

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzV2YYYy4xM

Part Four

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwV7Gc-JwUk

Paige Vaccaro Testifying before Hespe and the Study Commission photo credit: kdphotography67.com

Paige Vaccaro Testifying before Hespe and the Study Commission
photo credit: kdphotography67.com

Bittersweet Victories

So I have officially been procrastinating for two and a half hours. I am supposed to be writing my testimony for the public hearing in Camden on Thursday before the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in NJ.

During the public hearings in Jackson, I was so fired up and inspired by the testimonies. The evidence against the use of the PARCC test was staggering. Victory over the test seemed inevitable, which felt encouraging, until I really started to think about it.

How dare they just impose this test on the entire state without any regard for its validity or impact on student achievement? The more the evidence mounted up around the Study Commission’s table, the harder it became to see them and the lies that they represent. As I drove the long drive home, the buzz of energy from the night fell away and in the coming days I was left not with the sweet taste of victory, but with the bitterness of anger.

Several speakers spoke about how they will not allow our children to be guinea pigs, but really that is all they are to these education reformers. Commissioner David Hespe came out of the testimony with nothing but more spin doctoring in the media, when really he should have been apologizing for wasting all of our time with this ill-conceived test.

The opt out movement, or refusal here in NJ, truly shows that the people are never powerless against the state. That alone is an important message that parents, teachers, administrators, and school boards needed to hear. No it is not enough to just simply say, “The state made us do it.” That mentality has been dominating education for far too long.

I also have to add that it makes me angry that a parent’s right to refuse was ever an issue. But what makes me even angrier is that so many schools initially said that students would have to”sit and stare”. Really? They design a terrible test that takes twice the amount of time and then expect students to sit through the whole test silently doing nothing. What part of this is in the interest of the child? Not the test, nor the refusal policy.

My oldest of 4 children is in second grade this year, so next year he will be in a tested grade. There is no way that I will accept him sitting and staring for the ridiculously long PARCC test. In fact, I won’t even tolerate him having to sit and read a book for the entire time or even do work quietly in the library independently.

I send my children to school to learn in a supportive, enriching environment. A standardized test does not teach anything. It does not help drive instruction. It does not give parents nor teachers a better understanding of their child’s achievement. It does not make children career and college ready. All it does is waste time that would be better spent learning.

So, I sit here struggling to write my testimony. I struggle because I know that whatever the Study Commission comes up with to appease the angry public, will not be good enough for me. Maybe I am an idealist. Maybe my expectations are too high for public schools. Maybe it was a match that would never make it to heaven. But, I am okay with that.

Change is slow, particularly when special interests drive change in the wrong direction. But in this case I cannot afford to be patient. I will continue to fight. However, if the PARCC stays next year, I will most likely be fighting as a homeschooling mom, who still cares about what happens to public education.

This long weekend, I had all of my children home with me. I watched them playing together and learning together. I am getting tired of trying to convince people in positions of power to care about my children. This whole debacle has shown how little respect our department of education and those who work under it  have for children. They have no business meddling in education, if they can’t shown any compassion for the students from all walks of life that are affected by their rash and selfish decisions.

So as the test refusal movement grows, celebrate the power of civil disobedience. But remember that these victories are only bittersweet.

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A Whole Lot of Time

Time is a word that resonates with teachers.

A daily schedule with specific time allocated for each subject in elementary schools, that are then signaled by jarring bells in middle and high school.

Prep periods, duties and meetings are scattered throughout the school day. Buses come and go at the same time each day.

Curriculum maps chop the standards and units into time frames.

Marking periods begin and end on specific dates, not to mention progress reports in the middle of each term and report card deadlines and distributions.

The desk calendar (I have never met a teacher without one) is crowded every month with events, faculty meetings, child study team meetings,  school functions, and field trips.

Even lessons are broken down into pieces based on time.

Education runs on the clock. A clock that doesn’t stop for bathroom breaks (as every teacher laments). And this is a good thing presumably, because the school day and school year don’t last forever.  We need to maximize efficiency and time on task.

But what effect does this constant time crunch have on learning? How many times do teachers have to cut activities, discussions, labs, and even assessments short because of time?  How many field trip opportunities are skipped? How many teachable moments lost? Experiments or other hands-on activities skipped? The answer is many.

Increased time spent on standardized assessments will chip away at that learning time even more. Despite the new PARCC assessment in NJ being heralded as more efficient because of it being completed online, it requires that the number of testing days be doubled from 4 days to 8 days (4 in March and 4 more in May).

Anyone who works in schools can tell you how testing shuts a school down. Computers now will be tied up with testing along with the teachers and administrators charged with the task of administering the test. (And they also use the week after testing for 4 days of makeup testing.) To be fair, there is definitely a time advantage to not having to distribute, collect and count test booklets and answer keys. And kids will no longer have to struggle to break the section seals with the eraser end of their pencil. However, any time gained was lost once again once the number of test days was doubled.

The NJ ASK in fourth grade  (according to the state website) was 4 mornings 60-90 minutes each day. The PARCC for 4th grade will be 4 mornings  80, 70, 75, 75 minutes each TWICE a year. Though the state has stated that the estimated actual time will be 10-20 minutes less than these times, it still remains to be seen.

Even more disturbing to me is the fact that these tests are now slated to start in kindergarten rather than in third grade. The time requirement for the youngest grades has not been released yet, but the amount of testing will drastically increase over the span of the elementary years.

The impact of this steep increase, I will tackle in another post. But the idea of time is my focus here. A whole lot of time. Our children do not have a whole lot of time to be children. Our modern world makes constant demands that they grow up faster, be exposed to more, and perform to the standards set by adults. Our children have shown the negative effects of these demands in dramatic ways like drug abuse, anxiety, depression, and violence, but also in more subtle ways. Love and excitement for learning is waning. School has become a place of work rather than a place that feels like fun despite the work that is getting done. And sadly, school has also become  place of fear with school shootings on the rise. What better way is there to keep our children safe than to show them love? Allow them to learn and develop free from unnecessary pressure to perform.

The world is changing rapidly. But our children still need their childhood. They need time to play. They need to love school. They need to engage in the kind of “work” at school that they will remember with a smile. They need teachers who have time to teach and not just collect data and train kids for tests.

There isn’t a whole lot of time before this testing machine takes over. Now is the time to push the pendulum instead of waiting for it to swing.