In Diegnan's Anti-PARCC bills, Poor Children are just Collateral Damage

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Education Committee,  has an editorial in today’s Star Ledger promoting his PARCC moratorium bill (A 4190) and his opt-out bill (A 4165). The first would disallow the state and school districts from using PARCC results for evaluating teachers and schools until 2018. The second would compel all school districts to facilitate opt-outs  -- not just for PARCC but for all standardized tests -- by publicizing opt-out procedures and providing instruction  during testing for students whose parents boycott the tests.

(Standardized tests like PSAT’s, SAT’s, ACT, and Advanced Placement assessments, typically taken by college-bound students, are presumably exempt because parents pay out-of-pocket for those tests.)

In the editorial Diegnan catalogues his justifications for undermining state standardized testing, or at least PARCC tests. But what's more significant is what he leaves out.

First, here's what he puts in:

In other words, his bills’ are about teachers' well-being, not students. Standardized tests, he says, while useful in identifying “areas in which a student may need additional academic attention,” might “discourage” our best instructors whom, in his construct, are delicate flowers. Teachers, he says, are “unfamiliar” with the technology (although the teachers I know are technologically-savvy. Students are for sure: find me a 3d grader who can’t click and drag). Standardized tests, he worries, make teachers, parents, and students feel bad.

This would be almost funny if it weren't so condescending, especially during Teacher Appreciation Week. Tip to the Assemblyman: the idea here is to salute our great teachers, not demean them.

Diegnan’s editorial omits the most significant underpinnings of his bills. His objection isn’t to standardized tests – he never, for example,  proposed moratoria or opt-out schemes on ASK's or HSPA's – but to the very small link between PARCC test results and teacher evaluations, currently 10%.  (This accountability metric is part of N.J.'s new teacher tenure law, TEACHNJ.)

Thus, Diegnan's line of attack hews closely to NJEA’s playbook. And no wonder: both bills are a product of NJEA’s legislative team. In January, NJEA’s legislative director told NJ Spotlight,
“It’s not going to be just one bill. We’re now sorting out what is out there and seeing what needs to be amended … Bills are out there, and I think you will see more.”
In fact, the union, is in the midst of a $15 million TV and radio ad campaign (also see here) that denigrates PARCC and urges parents to opt out in order to sabotage the ability of districts and the state to tie student outcomes to teacher evaluations.

This strategy, if successful, would corrupt the ability of the state and school districts to accurately disaggregate data on typically-disenfranchised students.

Of course, those students don’t live in Diegnan’s white suburban legislative district. To him, and to those who support those bills, schoolchildren in Camden and Newark and Trenton are just collateral damage.

Now, in all fairness, Diegnan has good reason to kowtow to NJEA’s agenda because the union is one of his most generous campaign contributors.  According to Ballotpedia, NJEA has contributed $16,400 for each of his list Assembly campaigns; NEA has been even more generous, coughing up $32K.  Like the man says, just follow the money.

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