First Person

Against PARCC: an argument in response to Elaine Gantz Berman

Proponents of the controversial Common Core aligned PARCC test suggest that it is a “more rigorous” standardized test and will create better students. But a closer look at supporters’ claims raises many questions.

First of all, the “rigor” of the exams has proven difficult to measure, as only samples of the PARCC test questions have been released.

Colorado mandated that all schools administer the PARCC test without knowing exactly what is on the test, as even state officials only have access to sample questions, and not the questions that students themselves will face.

PARCC is a new, unproven, unfunded, state-wide test to be taken on computers, multiple times per year.  The test has been adopted by many states across the nation, thereby rendering it a national test of sorts.  The states that have adopted the Common Core Standards and PARCC, have done so under federal pressure — states could not receive Race To The Top (RTTT) funding without doing so.

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we have been adding to the pile of standardized tests that our students must hurdle over. We overuse and over-emphasize standardized tests. PARCC adds to the problem, with lost classroom time, exorbitant cost– some districts are spending millions of dollars on the infrastructure and computers necessary to take this PARCC test — and high-stakes pressure on both students and teachers alike.

But where is the evidence that this reliance on standardized tests is producing better outcomes for our students? Despite this increase in the use of standardized tests, postsecondary remediation rates continued to climb from 2012 to 2013.

Colorado began field-testing PARCC last week. Colorado teachers have been leaving feedback on both the PARCC exams and the TCAPS on the website Testing Talk; the reviews are not positive. New York piloted the PARCC field test earlier this year and also found multiple problems; the results there showed that under Common Core-aligned tests, the achievement gap actually widens.

Standardized tests fail to accurately measure knowledge; rather, results can be predicted based on income and race. . The tests are snapshots, and don’t take into account other factors: ability to navigate a computer; having an “off” day, being tired/sick; having issues outside the classroom, etc. High school GPAs are a more reliable predictor of college readiness than the SAT, another prominent standardized text. And, as per American Statistical Association (ASA) findings, evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores is highly questionable.

Coloradans are fed up with standardized testing. Parents are now taking a stand, opting their students out of the exams. They know PARCC tests are predicted to take longer and can be given up to four times per year. By comparison, the TCAPS are administered only once a year.

In a landmark vote, the Colorado State Board of Education (SBE) recently  voted against PARCC testing in our state, and has asked the state legislature to repeal the law requiring PARCC assessments. The board agrees that testing is excessive and has commissioned a study on the amount and types of assessments used in Colorado classrooms. A bill currently in the General Assembly, HB14-1202, which was intended to allow schools alternatives to the PARCC tests, was weakened after political pressure and has morphed into another study on Colorado’s assessments. A similar bill that would have delayed the implementation of PARCC and Common Core, SB14-136, was killed earlier this season by the same political parties. A proposed amendment to HB14-1202 proposes to delay PARCC, keeping TCAPs, for one year. One more year of TCAP would give Colorado educators and families time see what PARCC is and if we want it for our state. This delay would not cost the state additional money.

Common Core and PARCC also help schools and districts collect data, of all sorts — not just academic. This video from the White House Education Datapalooza shows how companies like Pearson (who made the PARCC test) collect “hidden” data on children, “by tagging every sentence, down to the atom.”

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) captures this data and more from other tests and observations including home life, mental health, behavioral, pictures and videos taken throughout the school year, and packages the data, creating a “single golden record” for each student that combines data from schools and school districts, workforce and social service agencies, and corrections agencies. Watch the CDE video here.

This data collection happens without parents’ approval. Parental consent is not necessary; in fact, parents cannot prohibit their child’s data being collected or shared, often with third party vendors.  A Fordham University study finds “there are serious deficiencies” in student data security; the data is not safe and can be breached. Lawsuits, such as one from the public interest research center EPIC’s, challenge this data collection and the weakened FERPA regulations.

This government document explains that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws were changed and can now be bypassed.  You can find the exact words in this clip.

Student profiling often happens in other countries – Singapore, for instance:

“Singapore’s government instituted the practice of streaming (or tracking) students based on their academic ability from elementary school onward. After six years of primary-school education, Singaporean students take a test that determines whether they’ll be placed in a special school for the gifted, a vocational school or a special education program, and another test later determines their higher-ed options.”

This tracking sounds eerily like what CDE and the White House have described as their goals for American children. Obtaining this type of personal and predictive, behavioral data without parental consent is clearly questionable. In fact, Nevada Department of Education allowed parents to opt out of their Common Core-aligned field tests due to concerns over data collection and privacy.

What is the answer to all this testing madness? To stop. Why rush into PARCC? Are there special interests and politics at play? If we feel we need rigorous standardized tests, why not rigorously review them before implementing?

Fordham University’s Chester Finn believes PARCC will wither away and be replaced by something else. In fact, seventeen states have backed out of these Common Core-aligned tests. Colorado could make its own state assessment based on what our teachers actually teach.

Whatever the test, students should take it much less frequently. High performing countries like Finland take only one standardized test in high school. Why not find a balance and test only a portion of students, staggering the tests at different grades? Rather than test every child, every year, we could follow the respected NAEP protocol of random sampling.  Too much classroom time is lost preparing for and taking so many of these high-stakes standardized tests.  Testing is not teaching: let teachers teach.

Allow teacher and parent input, and keep our decisions local. Colorado is a local control state. Give control back to our school boards and teachers, where it belongs. Our state legislators hold this power. We, the taxpayers and voters, hope they will support CDE and the people of Colorado. Repeal or at least delay the PARCC exams, review standards, require parental consent on children’s data.

We also call upon Governor Hickenlooper to sign legislation if sent to him. In a recent interview with Mike Rosen, the Governor, at 27 minutes, agreed that testing is excessive and said he would be willing to help delay PARCC, involving parents in the process. Hickenlooper went on to say, “We can opt out of all kinds of things in Common Core.”

Thank you, Governor. We sincerely hope that the General Assembly will send you such a bill and that you will follow through.

Editor’s Note: This First Person article is in response to a previous First Person article written by State Board of Education member, Elaine Gantz Berman.

This post is endorsed by the following people and organizations:

Cheri Kiesecker, Fort Collins, Colorado

Kristin Tallis, Fort Collins, Colorado

Aimie Randall, Loveland, Colorado

Steve Yon – Castle Rock CO

Kari Newsom – Littleton CO

Adelia Darlene Herrera – Larkspur CO

Eric Lee Herrera – Larkspur CO

Justin Collier Herrera Larkspur CO

Crystal Coleman – Castle Rock CO

Maren Kay Neises – Larkspur, Co

Mary Denise Babcock – Littleton CO

Karla Mount – Castle Rock CO

Matt Wiebe, Fort Collins, Colorado

Deanna Masciantonio-Miller, Kiowa, Colorado

Belinda Seville, Centennial, Colorado

Ryan Smith, Kiowa, Colorado

Courtney Smith, Kiowa, Colorado

Candy Putch, Elizabeth, Colorado

Cameron Rau, Loveland, Colorado

Elodji Means, Elizabeth , Colorado

Kimerly Lutte, Elizabeth , Colorado

William Lutter, Elizabeth , Colorado

Dr. Dave Barton, Castle Rock, Colorad

Kathy Welch,Colorado Springs, Colorado

Connie Miller, Kiowa, Colorado

Matt Kaiser, Elizabeth , Colorado

Kelly Kaiser, Elizabeth , Colorado

John Seville -Elizabeth , Colorado

Kathryn Seville – Loveland, Colorado

Natalie Adams, Littleton, Colorado

John Sampson, Strasburg School Board, Colorado

Julie Williams, Jefferson County School Board, Colorado

Rudy Zitti, Fort Collins, Colorado

Elizabeth McManus, Elbert , Colorado

Judith Casey, retired Elementary Principal, 54 yers public Education, Colorado Springs

Heidi Wolfgang, Canon City, Colorado

Jennifer Raiffie, Denver, Colorado

Toni Walker, Loveland, Colorado

Katrina Kochim, Grand Junction, Colorado

Maureen Sielaff, Littleton, Colorado

Cathy Gardino, Falcon, Colorado

Sheila Brown, Arvada, Colorado

Barb Hulet, Olathe, Colorado

Anita Stapleton, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Mike Stapleton, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Angelique Matthews, Colorado Springs

Jack Matthews, Colorado Springs

Stephanie Engel, Milliken, Colorado

Deborah Scheffel, Colorado Board of Education

Senator Vicki Marble, District 23, Colorado

Representative Chris Holbert, District 44, Colorado

Representative Justin Everett, District 22, Colorado

Representative Dan Nordberg, District 14, Colorado

Core Concerns, Northern Colorado

Stop Common Core Colorado

Coloradoans Against Common Core

Parents’ Voice for JeffCo

Northern Colo. Parents Against Common Core

Fremont County RE-1


Stop Common Core Colorado

Parent Led Reform National

Parent Led Reform Colorado

United Opt Out National



First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.