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An URGENT Call to Action for Massachusetts BATs and Their Colleagues

March 23, 2014

As the PARCC is about to be piloted in school districts across Massachusetts, news reports have been swirling. The major issue at hand? Whether parents have the right to “opt-out” their children from taking this assessment. A small number of districts have made headlines for “allowing” parents this choice, but could they really have said otherwise?

 

While district leaders and policymakers might be claiming that the schools and districts identified as those which will be taking part in PARCC are mandated to do so, and while many will tell parents that they may NOT opt their children out, this is not the reality. PARCC is NOT policy in Massachusetts (yet); thus, there is no policy regarding the compliance with its implementation.

The reality that DOES exist today in terms of PARCC is that it is being piloted in certain schools and districts – it is a field study – an experiment – a test of a test, in order for policymakers to determine whether or not it proves to be a “better” assessment for the Commonwealth to adopt than MCAS. The PARCC assessment that roughly 81,000 Massachusetts schoolchildren will be spending hours taking is for experimental purposes only. The scores will serve no purpose for the children or the school; it will not be used to assess learning; it will not be used to inform instruction…it is a “no-stakes” test, that needs to be “piloted” prior to being adopted by the state as standard procedure. The children are guinea pigs in this massive corporate reform initiative…an initiative that will make Bill Gates yet another fortune.

As I’ve said before, I would like to see the teachers in Massachusetts take this upcoming PARCC field-test as an opportunity to make some noise…refusing to administer it – refusing to be part of this “study” – would certainly have an impact. Last year, the teachers at Garfield High in Washington were brave enough to take a stand against their own high-stakes test by refusing to administer it. And that was a test that actually counted. PARCC doesn’t. 

Every teacher in Massachusetts – especially those coming from my generation (pre-NCLB teachers) – knows too well the damage that has been done by this reform movement. It will only get worse as it continues. We have sat back and complied with all the changes in education and the system for too long…how bad does it really have to get before we stop being the ever-so-obedient followers and finally stand up for ourselves, our children, our profession? We need to remind each other that WE are the experts; WE are the ones who KNOW what children need and how they learn best. WE have the right to say what works and what doesn’t in the classroom; WE know what is and is not appropriate for children at every age and grade level.

And we also know that the initiatives and policies brought about by corporate reform are wrong. Many are harmful. Education is not improving; children are not getting smarter. Yet we continue to comply. Why? Because we have to, lest risk charges of insubordination…or worse.

This PARCC pilot is different, though. As I said above, it is not policy yet; it’s a field-test. Legally, can a person be required to participate in a field-test? Can he be punished for refusing…especially if he’s refusing in the best interests of his students? Maybe a teacher would be hesitant to opt-out his class if he were the only one taking such a stand…but what if all the teachers said no to PARCC? Because in two years, it WILL be policy, and it likely WON’T be so easy to fight against then…

…but today, it’s still just a field-test. And by virtue of AGREEING to take part in it will actually put “…teachers in a very difficult legal and ethical position”, says Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute.  

Read on and understand…and let’s come together as Massachusetts educators to do the right thing and stand strong, together, for our students.

From Pioneer Institute:

Is the Commissioner of Education Complying with the Law?

 Twenty years after the passage of the landmark Massachusetts education reform law, how did the Bay State get to a place where it is unclear whether the Commonwealth’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is abiding by federal and state law on a key pillar of reform – testing for accountability?

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s rush to pilot new national exams has caused consternation among superintendents, with 38 districts refusing to participate in the effort to pilot the new PARCC tests.

After repeated questions from district officials, Pioneer sent a January 27th letter to Commissioner Mitchell Chester questioning (1) whether the Commonwealth’s plan to pilot PARCC (while exempting certain students from MCAS) was aligned with the state’s landmark 1993 law and (2) whether the Department had received a waiver from the federal government authorizing the state and districts to forego the administration of the 2014 MCAS exam.

The Commissioner’s January 31st reply is troubling. In it, Chester indicates that the DESE had not received a waiver from the federal government. Nor is it clear when the Massachusetts Department’s request was submitted to the federal government.  (As the Commissioner has not made this waiver public, Pioneer has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to allow that request to be seen by school officials and the general public.)

Today, Pioneer is issuing a follow-up Open Letter, in which Executive Director Jim Stergios notes:

[A]dministration of the MCAS is not optional. It is the law – both state and federal law. The goal of such testing is to provide information to both parents and the department you head. An engine of reform was always contemplated to inform the conversations over kitchen tables that decided school committee elections, chose schools, and made decisions about town meeting warrants. A commissioner of education doesn’t get to arbitrarily abrogate the testing responsibility – especially given the erosion of student achievement in elementary schools that has been documented in NAEP results. We remain, after all, a society under the rule of law.”

This is not the first time the Commissioner has had difficulty with the law.  A Superior Court judge, ruling on the controversy around the state’s approval of a Gloucester charter school in 2010,  found “a strong factual showing that the Commissioner, despite his affidavit to the contrary, did not perform his own evaluation of the GCA application but, to the contrary, ignored the state regulations.”

The Pioneer letter closes noting that the Commissioner’s “reckless view” of the rule of law “places [him], along with Massachusetts school committees, superintendents, principals and teachers, in a very difficult legal and ethical position.”  Each of these education officials understands that state and federal laws apply to them as well.

Here are links to the correspondence between Mr. Stergios and Commissioner Chester (to be read in order):

I urge every educator in Massachusetts to share this among their colleagues as PARCC rolls in. There could not be a more opportune time for us to mobilize and take action than now. Enough is enough. It’s time to Just Say No, and stand up for ourselves, for our schools, and most of all, for our students.

 

 

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