It is my understanding that federal law does NOT mandate testing, but rather mandates assessment. In fact, we could design our own assessment system as a pilot. I would hope to assess children and young adults with a portfolio, using the work that they already complete throughout the year to assess progress.
In fact, I would be comfortable with children taking perhaps three large standardized tests throughout their career as a student, but I would like reassurance that the tests wouldn’t guide curriculum or be tied to teacher evaluations. It’s one thing to collect data on the educational progress of our kids; it’s quite another to spend precious learning time teaching students how to run a computer, how to work with multiple choice testing questions, and how to pass a test.
The real tragedy is that the results of the test guide teacher training, which curriculum materials we buy, and what specifically we are teaching our kids. This results in less class time dedicated to hands-on learning experiences like growing edible schoolyard gardens, creating and using outdoor classrooms, engaging in STEAM lessons, and so much more. Teaching to the test and designing our curriculum based around what will be assessed forces teachers and administrators to take class time away from those exciting lessons that will be eternally etched in children’s minds, and instead dedicate them to improving PARCC test scores.
I want our classroom teachers to have the support of their administrators and the autonomy to create lessons that inspire our kids; lessons that are based on the individual interests of the children in their classrooms; lessons that teach kids about things that will never be assessed, like how to cope with big emotions and how to mediate conflict.
Getting rid of PARCC is just the first step to improving our children’s experience in school. If NJ administrators and commissioners want to make some real changes, they should take a trip to Finland and see how the most successful schools in the world are run. If having the highest test scores is truly our goal, then we need to begin emulating their best practices right here in NJ. A truly inspirational school system model exists. We just have to embrace the change.
I am a member of the Brick Board of Education, but this letter is neither authorized by the board nor is it written on behalf of the board. I am writing in my capacity as a private citizen and expressing my personal opinion.
Secretary, Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools
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