By KATHY CHANG
MONROE — Schools Superintendent Michael Kozak and the members of the Board of Education engaged in a candid discussion about standardized testing and assessments before the board voted on a resolution about graduation requirements.
Board member Jill Demaio said regulations written by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) currently state that the only way to graduate is by taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
The resolution approved at a special meeting on July 13 states that the board — while acknowledging proposed new regulations regarding high school graduation requirements with the PARCC assessment — also supports alternatives to a uniform statewide test as a method of assessing whether students have met New Jersey state standards. It urges the DOE to provide multiple pathways to a high school diploma that include alternatives not based on standardized tests.
It also directs Business Administrator/Board Secretary Michael Gorski to send a copy of the resolution to New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe and all legislators representing Monroe Township.
“The purpose is not to dilute or take away from the assessment, but is to say that every child learns differently and there are some children who may not be able to take assessment and need alternatives,” Demaio said. “The regulations are very narrowly written with [the PARCC assessment being] the only option, and I think this [resolution] says that children are different, they learn differently, they express what they learned differently, and we need to take that into consideration when considering graduation.”
Board member Michele Armenio said while she agrees that regulations should not be too stringent, she is concerned that the language of the resolution may be too broad.
“Being too stringent is one degree of a problem, and being too broad can open another whole issue, unintentional as it might be,” she said.
Board Vice President Thomas Nothstein cited a saying that states, “We don’t prepare our students for graduation, we prepare them for the next day.”
He said the saying is important to what the Monroe Township School District is doing.
“At the end of the day it’s what happens to them after they graduate that is impactful for their future careers and education choices,” Nothstein said.
Kozak said he respects the controversy swirling around the PARCC test and standardized assessments out in the community and throughout the country.
He said it’s important for the board to consider a few things. As the Coleman Report of 1966 — Equality of Educational Opportunity — by sociologist James S. Coleman reaches its 50-year anniversary, there is one resounding theme of that report and reports commissioned by the federal DOE thereafter.
“The Coleman report brought up the importance of standardized testing,” Kozak said. “The reason for that is many students, especially our special education students, were too often, ‘Well you know what, they are not quite ready, they’re OK,’ and we had no standardized way to look to see whether or not we were properly preparing and holding the highest standards for all of our students, our most needy students, our struggling students.”
Kozak said it is important to note that American students are often competing now with students from China, Russia, India and many more countries around the world.
“That opinion [in the Coleman report] was brought up again in the report that was commissioned when President Ronald Reagan was in office and later on with President George Bush and certainly when President Barack Obama took over,” said Kozak, who said the reports have a bipartisan viewpoint that standardized testing gives educators a means to look at all our students.
Kozak said what the reports have shown is some students, who get into the same college or university, no matter what state they are from, did better than their peers even though they all had received “A” grades at their respective high schools.
“We found out there was no standardized measurement of how we are preparing our students, so I feel it is a disservice not to hold high expectations and not to hold some standardized measurement method of how we are doing,” Kozak said.
The superintendent said although he believes standardized measurement is needed, he tells teachers, principals and teacher candidates that he really does not want to hear comments made to their students such as “You need to know this for the test.”
“That’s not our intent; our intent is to have the students gain the knowledge, gain the skills, the strategies for continued learning throughout their lives,” he said. “The tests are for us. That data is so important for us to look at [to tell us whether or not] we are doing what we need to be doing and without a standardized measure without knowing that it’s hard to achieve [our intent].”
Kozak said he understands and respects Demaio’s viewpoint on students who don’t do well on standardized assessments.
“I think there are plenty of different types of measures that we employ in our high school that provide evidence on how these students are doing, and the state has allowed for portfolio assessments for these students, and at the same time the skills that these students will need are so important whether they are going to college or whether they go directly from high school into a career,” he said.
Kozak said another point to look at is disruption to various types of careers when preparing their students for the future.
“A couple of years ago, there was no Internet, no Google, no Apple, no Uber, no Lift … you name it,” he said. “Now [we have] autonomous cars. Look at what Tesla is doing — what is a car mechanic going to do when a Tesla is pulling in saying I need work on this? That process alone is moving along so quickly. That is a disruptor to the automotive industry.”
Board President Steve Riback said he did have a concern for the future on how the district looks at assessments, different assessments and how they are going to be used to inform instruction.
Demaio said in the end it may be a small percentage of students who use the alternative measures, which have to be approved by the state DOE, but in any case it is important to be available.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.