Livingston Superintendent on PARCC: We Don't Care; We Don't Have To

Jim O’Neill, interim superintendent of Livingston Public Schools, defends his district's high PARCC opt-out rates in yesterday’s NJ Spotlight:
I am sorry to say the critics of “opt out” are either looking at PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) in a one-dimensional way or have engaged in an extremely shallow reading of the issues. Most of the high opt-out rates were in high-performing districts where thousands of students take the most rigorous courses along with multiple tests: PSAT, SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement. Do we really think that students heading to some of the most prestigious universities in the nation are afraid of taking one more test?
I don’t think anyone (except maybe NJEA, which just booked more TV ads in NY and Philly) is suggesting that the privileged students of Livingston Public Schools (median family income: $133,271, average home price: $928,300) are “afraid of taking one more test.” They just don’t have to. Current N.J. D.O.E. regulations allow them to substitute PSAT, SAT, or ACT scores for PARCC tests, so why bother?

In fact, Livingston high school students appear to love tests. They all take college entrance exams and more than half of them take more than one A.P. test.  When they had to take N.J.’s pre-PARCC HSPA test to graduate, they all took the HSPA and boasted one of the lowest HSPA-exemption rates in the state.

But now, Superintendent O’Neill says, the students and their parents are “conscientious objectors,” a phrase that embodies ethical concerns about war or religion or freedom. But Livingston’s boycott isn’t conscientious. It’s pragmatic.

Here’s the problem: Livingston’s educational leader is promoting a kind of segregation. In his construct, wealthy students who have the luxury of choosing other standardized tests for college or college credit  get to bypass statewide assessments, data collection and disaggregation be damned. Poor students, who don't have access to the privileged education system in Livingston, should participate in statewide assessments.  Doesn’t sound very conscientious to me.

A few other quibbles: O’Neill erroneously writes, “most egregiously, [the state will] use test results to classify teachers on a spectrum from high quality to unacceptable.” Actually, test results will only count for 10% this year of a teacher’s evaluation, not proportionally enough to classify anyone. He writes that PARCC is given over a period of nine days and “nine days is 5 percent of the 180-day school year. Is this really the best way to spend so many precious hours?” But his math is wrong. PARCC takes 8-10 hours, about an hour and a half more than pre-PARCC tests, or about 1.5% of the school year. If Livingston is administering 90-minute PARCC tests and then calling it a day, then that’s not a very good use of instructional time.

Primarily, O’Neill’s defense of wealthy opt-outers recalls Lily Tomlin in Laugh-In: “We’re the telephone company. We don’t care. We don’t have to.”  In Livingston, parents and students don’t care about PARCC because they don’t have to. Call it what you want, but don’t call it “conscientious.”

Labels: , ,