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NJ Parents and Teachers Say "NO!" to PARCC Common Core Tests

02/27/2015 02:51 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

New Jersey parents and teachers are up in arms in a campaign against new state Pearson designed PARCC exams supposedly aligned with the national Common Core standards. NJ Kids and Families, a coalition that includes NJEA, the New Jersey Education Association, is sponsoring a television advertising campaign and an online petition to stop the Pearson PARCC exams. Testing begins this spring, unless parents and teachers can stop them.

But the anti-PARCC anti-Common Core coalition may have an unlikely ally. Who thought pro-business Republicans would take on the school testing industry? Now that he is running for governor of Iowa (or maybe just for Iowan votes for the Republican presidential nomination), New Jersey's own Chris Christie, the governor who brags he "tells it like it is" and "speaks from the heart" has made a calculated flip-flop and turned against Common Core and PARCC. Who would have thought?

We either have a Common Core Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde or even more scary, maybe there are really two Chris Christies. At a KIPP Public Charter Schools conference in 2013, pro-Common Core Dr. Jekyll Chris Christie argued America needs Common Core. "We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the President than not."

But in Iowa while trying to raise support for his sagging presidential campaign, anti-Common Core Mr. Hyde Chris Christie told an audience about his "grave concerns" about Common Core. According to this Chris Christie, "we're in the midst of re-examination of it in New Jersey . . . It is something I'm very concerned about, because in the end education needs to be a local issue."

Up until now, New Jersey has been an important ally of the Pearson PARCC Common Core exams. According to the PARCC website, New Jersey signed up with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in spring 2010, became a "Governing State" in 2011, and participated in shaping PARCC's "next-generation assessment system." In addition, State Education Commissioner David Hespe serves on the PARCC Governing Board, the Director of Student Learning Assessments at the New Jersey Department of Education is on the PARCC K-12 team, and the Secretary of Higher Education for the State of New Jersey serves on the PARCC Advisory Committee on College Readiness.

The New Jersey Assembly responded a bit to the parent-teacher campaign by approving a bill that would prevent the results of PARCC test from being used to measure student achievement for three years and from influencing student placement in a gifted and talented program. The bill must still be passed by the State Senate and signed by Governor Christie. At its best, this is a partial response because the tests themselves are still scheduled to take place as planned.

One of the things parents and teachers are outraged about is the poor design of the tests which seem intentionally organized to cause frustration and failure. A well-designed test eases students into the exam and has a range of questions on different academic performance levels. This helps to keep students relaxed so they perform their best and gives teachers and parents information about what a student is actually having difficulty with. But a sample math test shown to parents and teachers at a PARCC event at Montclair State University started with third graders being asked to answer difficult two-part questions and multiple-choice questions where the 3rd graders had identify multiple correct answers. Russ Walsh of Rider University analyzed sample PARCC English Language Arts items and concluded that the samples were as much as two grade levels above the grades for which they were selected.

While parents technically have the right to have their children opt-out of the tests, there will be penalties. But the New Jersey Department of Education is warning that schools and districts that fall below 95 percent of their students taking the PARCC tests risk losing state funds.

According to Daniel Katz, director of secondary and secondary-special education at Seton Hall University, "If experiences of other states that have already implemented PARCC- and CCSS-aligned exams are illustrative, New Jersey's teachers, students and parents can expect steep declines in the percentage of students scoring in the higher levels of achievement. Neighboring New York, for example, has its own Pearson-designed CCSS-aligned exam, and the percentage of students scoring proficient or highly proficient was cut essentially in half to roughly 35 percent for both math and English." Katz argues that a "decrease in scores will not indicate anything specifically wrong with education in New Jersey. The National Assessment of Education Progress has been a consistent measure of education in the country without high stakes attached to it. New Jersey has been a high-performing state in NAEP for years."

PARCC claims its "assessment measures real world skills that colleges value" and that New Jersey's public two- and four-year colleges and universities "helped develop the assessments to ensure that it measures college readiness." New Jersey parents and teachers beg to differ. They are lobby the New Jersey legislature state education governing board to say "NO!" to PARCC Common Core Tests.

Below is a sample middle school level reading passage from the online New Jersey PARCC preparation booklet. On the whole, I do not find the difficulty of the text unreasonable. The problem is its length. The passage has eleven paragraphs and over 1,500 words. Skill level can be ascertained with a much shorter selection. For many 12-years old, this is really testing their endurance ability to sustain attention in a reading passage with a topic that does not interest them. To test yourself, try reading a longish article in the newspaper that you find boring.

My other problem is with the standard Pearson "best choice" question. The test designers act as if their "best choice" is a fact, but "best choice" is an opinion. The reading passage is originally from the official Amelia Earhart website. Pearson PARCC notes the name Amelia Earhart is trademarked, but there is no article citation. Is Pearson PARCC encouraging plagiarism? The sample reading passage and questions also appear in the Louisiana PARCC test guide for 7th graders. Is Pearson PARCC double-dipping by charging both New Jersey and Louisiana for the same material?

Read the website entry "The Biography of Amelia Earhart." Then answer the questions.

The Biography of Amelia Earhart

(1) When 10-year-old Amelia Mary Earhart saw her first plane at a state fair, she was not impressed. "It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting,' she said. It wasn't until Earhart attended a stunt-flying exhibition, almost a decade later, that she became seriously interested in aviation. A pilot spotted Earhart and her friend, who were watching from an isolated clearing, and dove at them. "I am sure he said to himself, 'Watch me make them scamper,'" she said. Earhart, who felt a mixture of fear and pleasure, stood her ground. As the plane swooped by, something inside her awakened. "I did not understand it at the time," she said, "but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by." On December 28, 1920 pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life." By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground," she said, "I knew I had to fly."

(2) Although Earhart's convictions were strong, challenging prejudicial and financial obstacles awaited her. But the former tomboy was no stranger to disapproval or doubt. Defying conventional feminine behavior, the young Earhart climbed trees, "belly-slammed" her sled to start it downhill and hunted rats with a .22 rifle. She also kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and productions, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.

(3) After graduating from Hyde Park High School in 1915, Earhart attended Ogontz, a girl's finishing school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She left in the middle of her second year to work as a nurse's aide in a military hospital in Canada during WWI, attended college, and later became a social worker at Denison House, a settlement house in Boston. Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921, and in six months managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. The second-hand Kinner Airster was a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow. Earhart named the plane "Canary,' and used it to set her first women's record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet.

(4) One afternoon in April 1928, a phone call came for Earhart at work. "I'm too busy to answer just now," she said. After hearing that it was important, Earhart relented though at first she thought it was a prank. It wasn't until the caller supplied excellent references that she realized the man was serious. "How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic?" he asked, to which Earhart promptly replied, "Yes!" After an interview in New York with the project coordinators, including book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam, she was asked to join pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. The team left Trepassey harbor, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named Friendship on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales, approximately 21 hours later. Their landmark flight made headlines worldwide, because three women had died within the year trying to be that first woman. When the crew returned to the United States they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

(5) From then on, Earhart's life revolved around flying. She placed third at the Cleveland Women's Air Derby, later nicknamed the "Powder Puff Derby" by Will Rogers. As fate would have it, her life also began to include George Putnam. The two developed a friendship during preparation for the Atlantic crossing and were married February 7, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a "partnership" with "dual control."

(6) Together they worked on secret plans for Earhart to become the first woman and the second person to solo the Atlantic. On May 20, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. Strong north winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland. "After scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood," she said, "I pulled up in a farmer's back yard." As word of her flight spread, the media surrounded her, both overseas and in the United States. President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross- the first ever given to a woman. At the ceremony, Vice President Charles Curtis praised her courage, saying she displayed "heroic courage and skill as a navigator at the risk of her life." Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in "jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower."

(7) In the years that followed, Earhart continued to break records. She set an altitude record for autogyros of 18,415 feet that stood for years. On January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California. Chilled during the 2,408-mile flight, she unpacked a thermos of hot chocolate. "Indeed," she said, "that was the most interesting cup of chocolate I have ever had, sitting up eight thousand feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, quite alone." Later that year she was the first to solo from Mexico City to Newark. A large crowd "overflowed the field," and rushed Earhart's plane. "I was rescued from my plane by husky policemen," she said, "one of whom in the ensuing melee took possession of my right arm and another of my left leg." The officers headed for a police car, but chose different routes. "The arm-holder started to go one way, while he who clasped my leg set out in the opposite direction. The result provided the victim with a fleeting taste of the tortures of the rack. But, at that," she said good-naturedly, "It was fine to be home again."

(8) In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for a monumental, and final, challenge. She wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Despite a botched attempt in March that severely damaged her plan, a determined Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it," she said. On June 1st, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. By June 29, when they landed in Lae, New Guinea, all but 7,000 miles had been completed. Frequently inaccurate maps had made navigation difficult for Noonan, and their next hop- to Howland Island- was by far the most challenging. Located 2,556 miles from Lae in the mid-Pacific, Howland Island is a mile and a half long and a half mile wide. Every unessential item was removed from the plane to make room for additional fuel, which gave Earhart approximately 274 extra miles. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, their radio contact, was stationed just offshore of Howland Island. Two other U.S. ships, ordered to burn every light on board, were positioned along the flight route as markers. "Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available," Earhart said.

(9) At 10 am local time, zero Greenwich time on July 2, the pair took off. Despite favorable weather reports, they flew into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. This made Noonan's premier method of tracking, celestial navigation difficult. As dawn neared, Earhart called the ITASCA, reporting "cloudy, weather cloudy." In later transmissions Earhart asked the ITASCA to take bearings on her. The ITASCA sent her a steady stream on transmissions but she could not hear them. Her radio transmissions, irregular through most of the flight, were faint or interrupted with static. At 7:42 A.M. the Itasca picked up the message, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." The ship tried to reply, but the plane seemed not to hear. At 8:45 Earhart reported, "We are running north and south." Nothing further was heard from Earhart.

(10) A rescue attempt commenced immediately and became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history thus far. On July 19, after spending $4 million and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the United States government reluctantly called off the operation. In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory. Across the United States there are streets, schools, and airports named after her. Her birthplace, Atchison, Kansas, has been turned into a virtual shrine to her memory. Amelia Earhart awards and scholarships are given out every year.

(11) Today, though many theories exist, there is no proof of her fate. There is no doubt, however, that the word will always remember Amelia Earhart for her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievement, both in aviation and for women. In a letter to her husband, written in case a dangerous flight proved to be her last, this brave spirit was evident. "Please know I am quite aware of the hazards," she said. "I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."

Questions
In paragraph 6 of "The Biography of Amelia Earhart," Earhart is quoted as saying, After scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood...I pulled up in a farmer's back yard. How does the quotation contribute to the meaning of the paragraph?
A. It demonstrates Earhart's calm sense of humor when describing a potentially frightening situation.
B. It shows that Earhart loved taking risks but regretted when her action is put others in danger.
C. It suggests that Earhart was humble about her accomplishments and able to admit mistakes.
D. It illustrates Earhart's awareness of her responsibility as a role model for other women

In which other paragraph in the article does a quotation from Earhart contribute to the reader's understanding of her character in a similar way as does the quotation in Part A?
A. paragraph 7
B. paragraph 8
C. paragraph 9
D. paragraph 11

According to the "Biography of Amelia Earhart," which events had the most significant impact on Earhart's life? From the List of Events, create a summary by dragging the four most significant events and dropping them in the boxes in chronological order.

List of Events
Earhart becomes the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean by herself.
Earhart attends a finishing school in Philadelphia.
Earhart purchases her first plane
Earhart works as a nurse's aide in Canada.
Earhart attends an air show, where a stunt pilot flies close to her.
Earhart sets off on a flight around the world.
Earhart places third at the Cleveland Women's Air Derby.

Which sentence explains how paragraph 4 is important to the development of the ideas in "The Biography of Amelia Earhart"?
A. Paragraph 4 provides details that explain why Earhart chose flying as a career.
B. Paragraph 4 relates Earhart's love of hard work to her success in flying.
C. Paragraph 4 illustrates how Earhart's enjoyment of flying changed her personal life.
D. Paragraph 4 retells a key event that enabled Earhart to become a celebrity pilot.

What quotation from paragraph 4 best supports the answer in Part A?
A. "I'm too busy to answer just now, she said"
B. "It wasn't until the caller supplied excellent references that she realized the man was serious."
C. "How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic? he asked, to which Earhart promptly replied, "Yes !"
D. "... she was asked to join pilot Wilmer 'Bill' Stultz and co-pilot mechanic Louis E. 'Slim' Gordon."

You have read a website entry and an article, and watched a video describing Amelia Earhart. All three include information that supports the claim that Earhart was a brave, courageous person. The three titles are:

"The Biography of Amelia Earhart"
"Earhart's Final Resting Place Believed Found"
"Amelia Earhart's Life and Disappearance" (video)

Consider the argument each author uses to demonstrate Earhart's bravery.
Write an essay that analyzes the strength of the arguments related to Amelia Earhart's bravery in at least two of the three supporting materials.
Remember to use textual evidence to support your ideas.