Guest MINDSETTER Joel Hellmann: What PARCC Doesn’t Measure
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
I have fostered 22 children from DCYF adopted 4 children from DCYF as teenagers. The youngest, under multiple standardized testing came to us as mentally retarded (IQ64.) When he first got here he scored in the second percentile in standardized testing nationally. He had been in 3 urban schools for the first 4 years of education. After 1 year, being in a stable home and going and going in early to school to work with a very dedicated special ed. teacher at a good school, the next year he took the standardized test again. This time he was in the 60th percentile. In 1 year.
Did the standardized test truly reflect the child? Did he go up 58% in one year? Did his IQ really go from 64-105 in one year? Does he belong in the second percentile or the 60th? Or did the test really reflect the abject poverty he was living in before he came to us? That he was in poorly performing districts and perhaps not teachers who had the excess capacity (overworked) or skill to move him forward? Or did the test reflect the fact that he didn't know where his next meal was coming from? Or did it reflect his ongoing concern if his mom's boyfriend was going to beat him up again? Or make him drink alcohol? Or that DCYF had put him in a group home that had a 10 day limit, and left him there for 4 months?
You need a high school diploma. A diploma determines if you will have a future, indeed it is an admission ticket to life. The test seems too important to be based on something with so many variables based on the luck of the draw.
How many hundreds of children in DCYF of kids never get out of a bad place and face such concerns daily. How many thousands of kids in RI in similar bad situations never even get on DCYF’s radar and schools just label them as “lazy” or mentally retarded. If RI uses these standardized testing to establish graduation requirements, and yes that is their intention, how many children will fail high school that were misdiagnosed or never given a fair chance?
In 2003 I was running Barrington Community Theatre, I had a student who was a techie and wanted a position as an intern for the summer. He had been in an urban Mass school system all his life. And he is one of the many people who are good in one area and not another. Basic math skills eluded him then, but put him in front of lighting or sound board or any kind of computer and it was like looking at a Mozart. But he was in danger of not graduating high school in a couple of subjects. I told him that if he didn’t graduate that I would not hire him as the intern (we only took one and I could not justify picking a kid with no diploma while passing on kids who did).
I have done the hiring for many companies and businesses, and when going through applications ALWAYS the first cut is to eliminate anyone who did not graduate high school or had a GED. You have to cut somewhere and that is a legal way to whittle down the pile. Many businesses do this. Not having a high school diploma is to be a second class citizen for the rest of your life. So this student, urged on by my insistence that he graduate to get the job, and with the help of a couple of very considerate teachers, he graduated by the skin of his teeth.
I tell you with confidence that there was no way that he would pass all the components of the PARCC test, his foundation in subjects was too weak, and his interests were too narrow for a broad test like that. He was our intern and worked for us for many years. He struggled the first year in college, finding himself. Not everyone has it figured out at age 17 some don’t get that epiphany until 20 or 21. But having the diploma he got into college. Within a year he had it figured out. Today, not only did he succeed at college and get a bachelor’s degree, he has completed his doctorate, he is teaching computer science at a University in Mass. Had the requirement of passing the PARCC test been in place, he never would have graduated high school, never got into college and probably would be working in a Starbucks, Walmart, or McDonalds, waiting for minimum wage to go up.
Do No Harm
Educators could benefit from the instruction doctors receive: First do no harm. Implementing PARCC or any other standardized test as a graduation requirement will harm many children. Period. People who say different do not know what they are talking about; I would be pleased to debate anyone who feels there is another position on this issue.
Ken Wagner has been quoted in news articles that “A diploma should mean something” The same thing that has been said by RIDE officials and my son’s school committee. It is an obtuse statement. It is an ass-backwards position. NOT HAVING a diploma means something. It means the child has at best a dim future of employment prospects. It means manual labor, dead end jobs. Or worse still welfare benefits paid by the rest of us or even worse still Prison which we all pay for.
I won’t get into how faulty the PARCC tests are, or that Pearson, the foreign company that makes billions on these tests and materials to support them. That they spend hundreds of millions lobbying (buying) our politicians to insure that testing, their testing, stays in place. Nor will I discuss how the test will never be used to eliminate any poor teachers, who will continue teaching with supports, while the students who were taught by them pay the price and fail and are subjected to lives of poverty and prison. I leave those arguments to others.
I would love to talk to Ken Wagner about this issue. I think it would be good for him to hear the other side of these children’s stories. And last I want to thank Speaker Mattiello, who last year through bold action delayed the disaster for three years (though Barrington is still implanting it to the detriment of its children). I would love to speak to him and thank him for his actions, and urge him to make sure that that delay becomes permanent. Not everyone enters this world with the same cards in his hands. And a society is judged on how well it takes care of its least powerful members.
Joel Hellmann Is a business management consultant, who is also a foster, and an adoptive parent as well as the biological parent of a child with Asperger’s. He founded Barrington community theatre in 2002, and is currently a director for Bristol County Water Authority, and a past member of the Barrington appropriations committee.
Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education
On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."
Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.
"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.
Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students. This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."
"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators. Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."
"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."
"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."
"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."
"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."
"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket."
"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. "
"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities. Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."
"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula. With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not. Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"
"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now. With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."
"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA. That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."
"Issue one is quality. Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code. And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."
"Issue two is equality. In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K. In Pawtucket it's $12.9. What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding. A difference of $3000 per pupil? We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case. An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."
"Issue three is Infrastructure. A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction. If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained. These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."
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