When Local School Boards Get it Right: Marlboro Reduces Local Testing and Values PARCC

It’s so easy to hate your local school board. Trust me on this: I’ve been a school board member for almost twelve years and I get the animus. We sit there primly at public meetings and officiously fling about arcane acronyms like confetti at a New Year’s party. We raise your taxes. We go to Atlantic City for the annual School Boards convention on your dime.  We have tense relationships with local unions who represent beloved teachers. We spend hours debating esoteric policies.

But once in a while we get things right. Today’s example of a laudable school board comes by way of  Monmouth County's Marlboro Public Schools, a white, wealthy suburb with an median household income of $130,400 and an average house cost of $648,041. Only 3.7% of students at Marlboro Middle School are economically-disadvantaged. There are so few black students (1.8%) there that they don’t even qualify as a subgroup.

Hence, Marlboro – suburban, white, wealthy – would appear to be the perfect incubator for an opt-out-of-PARCC movement, a natural ally of Save Our Schools-NJ and NJEA. In fact, last year Marlboro had the odd distinction of beating out every other Monmouth County school districts in opt-out rates. There, NJEA gloated, 37% of students, or 1,960 out of 5,200,  declined to participate in the new Common Core-aligned assessments.

But there’s been a change. According to the Asbury Park Press, the School Board, administrators, teachers, and parents have united around a far more reasonable solution to over-testing than boycotts. Last year Superintendent Eric Hibbs stuck to his guns about the importance of assessing students in college and career-ready standards. "Education today is not easy," the superintendent said at a public meeting last December. “I'd rather have you unhappy with me for adequately preparing our kids for what they're going to see in high school."

And this year the district remains faithful to PARCC (results were just fine, by the way) and is, instead, reducing tests that are under district control, not state mandated assessments. At a public meeting earlier this week, Hibbs said, “"There has to be a happy medium. I want to see more projects in the classroom. We want kids to be collaborative. We want to see innovation."

After all, PARCC tests take only about 9 hours a year. Local assessments – midterms, finals, quizzes, pre-tests, post-tests – take far more time. Those truly interested in reducing testing should follow the lead of Marlboro’s school board, families, and administrators and focus on local assessments.

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