Note to PARCC-Bashers: Annual Testing Won't "Resegregate Schools"

In New Jersey, where education reform disputes seem especially shrill, the focus has been all-things-PARCC. Readers know where I stand: common standards and annual aligned assessments are imperative if this country is going to achieve some semblance of educational equity. I’m hardly alone in this view, but I confess to some jealousy towards the extremely loud and well-coordinated messaging from those who decry PARCC tests as some infringement of their personal freedom or a conspiracy among privateers and union-bashers. The anti-reform Jersey consortium isn’t that big, but it’s really well-organized. We all know the names: Bob Braun, Mark Weber, Marie Cornfield, Julia Sass Rubin, Stephen Danley, Bruce Baker.  (Sorry if I’ve missed a couple.)  Just about all of them are connected, in one way or another, to NJEA and Save Our Schools-NJ.

A new name on the block, at least to me, is Sarah Blaine, who blogs at parentingthecore. She’s articulate, smart, and outspoken and, while I disagree with her on almost every issue, I admire her work. But this week Ms. Blaine published a really bizarre post that’s worth unpacking because (I can’t decide) it’s either laughable or dangerous.

In “Testing and the Re-Segregation of Public Ed,” Ms. Blaine writes that one of her primary objections to “annual testing and high-stakes uses of annual results” is that “aggregate test scores are used — be it by real estate agents or home buyers — as proxies for socio-economic status, with the effect of further re-segregating our communities.”

In this construct, either schools weren't segregated before annual standardized tests began decades ago, a claim that conflicts with factual state history. Or the advent of standardized testing turned integrated schools into segregated ones, which isn't true either. Or, PARCC, the focus of her post, will worsen segregation and turn high-performing schools into schools “like my childhood in Short Hills” and convert lower-performing schools into highly-segregated districts like Newark or Camden. (For non-New Jerseyans, the median family income in Short Hills is $224,524 and the average house costs $1.5 million. Wikipedia says the African-American population there is  0.01%.)

So let's be clear. New Jersey public school students, even in Short Hills, have taken annual standardized tests for decades. Real estate agents and home buyers have used test scores to gauge school performance for decades. New Jersey is, pre-PARCC, one of the most segregated states in America,  and that has far more to do with our fragmented school infrastructure (590 school districts, more per mile than any other state in the country) and a lack of affordable housing than with annual standardized tests.

PARCC won't "resegregate schools." We're already there and it won't get worse. But annual standardized testing aligned with higher-level common standards will reveal to families and teachers and schools meaningful measures of proficiency. That's honest and transparent, a message that surely all of us, across the spectrum of education politics and policy,  can support with full-throated vigor.

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