New Jersey reporter Kala Kachmar nobly sought to investigate the persistent achievement gaps between poor and wealthy students in the state’s districts. However, she starts with a misleading premise: that higher standards and new standardized tests alone will somehow “fix” the state’s schools.

No reasonable people in this debate suggest that. The new standards and tests serve as essential tools to identify where the problems are, but we still need supportive schools and world-class teachers in order to solve those problems.

PARCC Measures Gap, Keansburg Closes It

There is little evidence that the $186 million Common Core program will fix one of the toughest problems facing New Jersey’s classrooms: the education gap between rich and poor kids.

After nearly two decades of standardized testing and countless curriculum changes, students from homes at or near the poverty line still perform, on average, 15 points lower than other students on the math portion of the 11th grade graduation test, the Asbury Park Press found in a review of test scores for nearly 400 high schools across the state.NOTE: Tests identify gaps. Just saying.

Now, with the new testing standards raising a ruckus among many parents, politicians and the governor, experts say thePartnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, or PARCC, test for most grades will not help close the education gap.Tests don’t close gaps, they IDENTIFY them. You seem to understand this in your TITLE and the sentence above–why forget it now?

“I think there’s little evidence that having large-scale testing has helped these students to fundamentally change,” said Drew Gitomer, an education professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in New Brunswick. "We may have certain increases in certain areas, but by and large, achievement gaps persist."’Tis true, and the reason we know the true extent of these achievement gaps is thanks to statewide standardized tests…

Children from lower-income families tend to face hardships like hunger, stress and abuse at home that get in the way of learning, experts say. And with 38 percent of New Jersey’s 1.4 million students coming from low-income families, higher standards and harder tests could widen those gaps, Gitomer said.The standards and tests aren’t widening the gap! They’re exposing the true extent of these disparities so teachers, school leaders and parents can make informed decisions about how to improve education.

The state Department of Education thinks otherwise. It said the PARCC tests are meant to identify problem areas in students so teachers can improve lesson plans. Nationally, $186 million has been spent to develop the test. The costs in New Jersey are unclear because each school district doesn’t keep a separate budget for Common Core improvements, but many have had to upgrade text books, computer equipment and software.…

…The needs of poor, underachieving children do not appear to be as much of a priority for New Jersey under the Common Core, said Chris Tienken, an education professor at Seton Hall University.

"Standards don't address the factors that created the gap," he said. "Until you do, I don't see standards that will ever close it. I think we are spending a lot of money on solutions that won't solve the problem."Hmm… Prof. Tienken, you seem to be suffering from the Belief Gap. No reasonable person thinks that higher standards alone will close the gap. But should we really set the bar lower for kids in poverty?

The series of computerized PARCC assessments, considered more difficult than the last year’s tests, will roll out in March to test students on the Common Core standards.

PARCC replaces NJASK, the standardized test for elementary and middle schools, and the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), an 11th grade math and language arts test that students generally need to pass to graduate.

This week, Gov. Chris Christie said he had "grave concerns" about the Common Core now that it is tied to the state's federal funding. He’s appointed a commission to review the issues.And the state Assembly is considering bills that would delay the PARCC test for three years or allow parents to exclude their children from the test.…Gee, I wonder if that could be a politically motivated FLIP-FLOP to support a potential presidential bid? Meanwhile, he’s consistently urging students to take PARCC.

…Other than the Common Core standards and testing requirements, districts in New Jersey have a lot of discretion when it comes to creating effective curricula and teaching strategies, Erlichson said. She said local leaders have a better understanding of how to leverage resources.This is essential—Common Core just establishes a standard that can translate across school districts, but it’s up to the local educators to figure out the best way to reach their students.

“We facilitate and provide support,” Erlichson said. “But we count on school districts to make determinations of needs.”

Gitomer, of Rutgers, said schools need some level of accountability, but to assume that accountability by itself will change the education system is a naive view.Another over-simplification. No reasonable person holds this view. Just like standards alone won’t fix schools, accountability only works in a supportive school environment.

“The problem is we’ve often used the test results to blame teachers, students, schools—and we haven’t used (scores) to drive the kind of changes that would make a real difference,” Gitomer said. “If it’s a good test, it can provide some useful information. But in order to teach the kinds of things the Common Core requires, it’s going to take a sustained effort. The curriculum and way teachers teach has to change.”

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