UNION, NJ – Although initially township educators were closed mouthed about the impact PARCC testing has had on the school district, last week at the school board meeting the floodgates opened and it came out that students missed 40 days of teaching as a result.
One by one teachers, educators and parents stepped to the podium during the public portion of the Union School District Board of Education meeting, each expressing concern and frustration over the toll PARCC testing has taken on classroom teaching time.
Christopher Capodice, president of Union Education Association, admitted candidly that he was aware the board could do nothing about PARCC, but he felt it was time to open up about the toll this testing has taken and how difficult it was for teachers to administer the computerized exam.
“We’re here tonight to educate the public about that great effort,” he said, pointing out that teachers attended the meeting to talk about their loss of instruction time and classroom displacement. However, he made sure the school board knew teachers would continue to show up and do their job.
“Yes we are going to do what we do because we are responsible educators. But we want you and the public to understand that we have concerns,” said Capodice.
Ann Margaret Shannon, a high school staff member and member of UEA, explained why she was speaking out.
“I want you to know I have three goals tonight,” she said, explaining two of those goals were that the state pulled out of PARCC, as 38 other states have done, and next year the Union School District reverts back to paper and pencil testing.
“Educators are not opposed to testing,” she stressed to the board, but pointed out PARCC testing “ruined the entire month of March.”
“Our members are not opposed to helping administrators get this done but scheduling was done without concern for our prep periods,” Shannon said, explaining that preparation periods prior to classroom instruction were lost “as a rule, not as an exception.”
“Some teachers lost eight days,” she added, noting that while that may not sound like much, this time is a tool that is needed prior to teaching students.
Shannon was also concerned that some of her students, all college bound seniors, did not see her for two full days and she had a problem with that.
“The preparation time quarantined by our contract was taken away. I had to do this work at home in my living room and that shouldn’t be,” said the teacher, who also pointed out she was speaking on behalf of the 200 members of the local education association.
“The worst part is that there were 1,800 kids in 8th, 9th and 10th grades and only 300 computers. You can see why it took the whole month of March to complete this testing,” Shannon said, adding “it was a tremendous task.”
High School math teacher Stephanie White said she took time to sit down and actually calculate how her students were affected. The answer was not good.
“One standardized test should not be allowed to take away classroom time,” she said, explaining students took the equivalent of approximately eight quarterly exams in a week.
“There has been no new learning going on. They simply are learning to take tests and preparing to take tests,” said Shannon, stressing “we need to do better; we need to be teaching students.”
Teacher Arlene Eckert, a business education teacher at the high school, explained that because her classes are only half a year, many of her students are struggling to finish because they have spent more than a month out of the classroom.
Michael Cohan, a teacher in the school district for 30 years before retiring eight years ago, explained that he is now working for New Jersey Education Association as director of professional development and instructional issues.
“We monitor teaching and help all of our NJEA members with assessment literacy,” he explained to the board, adding that he came to the meeting “to tell you PARCC does nothing to help that.”
“The price we have to pay to get that data is too high,” said Cohan, adding that from all the stories he has heard throughout the state, “the price we have to pay is a perversion.”
“I’d like to ask this board to push back,” he said, mentioning that he was aware that the New Jersey Department of Education “has made all kinds of threats.”
“But when you lose 40 out of 180 days from instruction, it’s not right,” Cohan said, adding “let the DOE know that something has to be done. Issue a statement from this district that PARCC doesn’t work well.”
A father whose son is in third grade also stepped to the microphone to explain that he refused to let his third-grade son take the PARCC test.
“You are elected officials and speak for us. I expect if you pushed back you would have people behind you,” he told the board.
Jeff Monge, a father of two sons in the Union School District and strong advocate against PARCC, said he and other advocates were very concerned about the loss of classroom instruction time.
“Our biggest frustration is the perception of ‘you against us,’ where we can’t get a dialogue going with board members,” Monge said, adding he knew that was not the case, but “perception is king.”
High School AP physics teacher Tyler Nittle explained to the board that when he began teaching at the high school there were 15 students enrolled in his class and next year there will be 85 students. However, he was not pleased that his students have been missing critical computer lab time.
“The computer lab prepares students for college, but more importantly, students not having the computer lab doesn’t follow our curriculum,” he said, pointing out that while his students should have had three computer labs by this point, they actually have had only one due to PARCC testing.
“If we are not technically prepared to take the test and it takes 40 days away from teaching students, we have to go back and look at this,” Nittle said, adding “we are all in this together. We don’t have a choice. We have to make it work.”
Finally, Union High School Librarian Doris D’Elia stepped to the podium to explain to the school board exactly how PARCC testing had affected her department.
“We were not only closed the entire month of March. We were closed since December so teachers could be trained for PARCC testing as well as students,” she said, pointing out that “your school board meeting could not even be held in the library because of this.”
The school board did not respond to any of the educators who spoke at the meeting or indicate what the school district’s stance was on PARCC at this point. Following comments from the public, the board immediately went into closed session.