PARCC Backlash Dominates Emotional Montclair BOE Meeting

boe meetingMontclair’s last BOE meeting was filled with teachers and parents passionate in their opposition of the district’s handling of PARCC testing. The meeting, held on Monday, November 17, and posted yesterday for viewing on TV34, started with a moment of silence for educator Clement Price as well as recognition for a young mathematician from Glenfield School as well as students from Montclair High School who have also excelled academically as part of the National Merit Scholarship program. There was also presentation of the audit report and the enrollment report.

Then, one by one, speakers came to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting, raising different issues regarding PARCC. Most statements were followed by cheers from the attendees, many of whom are Montclair teachers.


Dan Gerdes, a Hillside teacher, spoke as both a parent and an educator, expressing concerns about student’s readiness to take PARCC not only in terms of their mastery of content but the technical skills to needed to succeed. Gerdes said the necessary technical skills needed take PARCC were not expected to be taught by technical teachers but all teachers regardless of other demands on their time or their access to technology.

“As we receive new information weekly on PARCC, the expectations are unrealistic and unsustainable,” Gerdes added.

A resident said PARCC testing would likely widen the achievement gap in Montclair and questioned how the district was going to ensure the playing field is level and asked what was going to be done about the increasing loss of learning in classrooms.

Colleen Martinez delivered her concerns about PARCC, describing the fears she had about an eight-year-old child feeling dumb and confused, as she did after trying to take the third grade math test. Martinez prefaced her statement, explaining she had attended school for 20 years and was both a licensed clinical social worker and Ph.D. who has worked in schools. Not only was the test “un-intuitive and difficult to navigate” but neither she, nor a sixth grader who took the test with her, could be certain of their answers or what they were doing on the test.

Sandy Silverman expressed shock at the divide in the community over this issue and criticized the board members for their lack of response, saying that, as a trained psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, “the only way you can act this way is if there is some level of a dissociative disorder.” Then Silverman called out two members of the board who she saw continually whisper to each other throughout the public comment period.

Another resident, Mr. Lovett, a Mt. Hebron parent, praised the extraordinary job of teachers at Mt. Hebron, and applauded the passion at the meeting as well as the presence of many teachers.

“I attended a PARCC parents meeting and there were more parents at that meeting than any other meeting I’ve ever seen,” said Lovett. “There were excellent presentations by the ELT and math coordinators, but the district needs to consider that when parents raised questions about these tests, the response consistently 100 times that night was ‘we are not going to get into politics.'”… We all know what politics means and for a representative of the district to use that language to insult parents who enthusiastically arrived at meeting, shows why there is so much concern.”

Another resident echoed her frustration at the PARCC meetings, saying that the “process of promoting PARCC which is untried and untested is deeply problematic. Our district must implement PARCC, but to do so enthusiastically, is propaganda. There should never be blind support about an untried, ambiguous program when there is so much we do not know.”

Rory Ores criticized the district both for emailing her comment at a previous meeting to parents as part of a Q&A document without her permission or knowledge and for not using a verbatim quote.

Rachel Egan said her 10th grade student wanted to know if graduation from high school would be affected if a student refuses to take the PARCC. Egan also criticized the questions posed by parents that were publicly posted on Montclair Schools website. “They were not posed in our own words, and the tone in the response to these questions felt like we are being silenced and intimidated.”

Maia Davis asked why there are now 51 people in the Central Office as compared to 33 a few years ago and questioned where did the money go, in regards to the surplus.

Chris McGuire expressed how “completely disturbed” she was by the presentation, particularly the budget.

“We withheld money, way too much, from schools for way too long,” says McGuire. “Then last year, we spent enormous money on PARCC/Common Core prep and now we are going to have to put back…something like a million and a half dollar? We need to join the other communities asking for a paper PARCC. Let’s put our money into our children instead of testing. You are driving us over a cliff. Those tests are going to measure not just students, but teachers and schools. What are you going to do to protect our district?”

Micehlle Fine first handed out papers to all board members before speaking. Fine then called into question the data that was given in the strategic progress report, stating “the key comparisons from last year are not available to the public and the data presented to the public systematically and inaccurately skew in the direction of claiming substantial achievement gains among African American students.”

Monica Lavosky, a teacher at Montclair High School since 1991, questioned what happened to surplus funds and questioned why the superintendent received a bonus and how the hiring of a public relations professional could have funded the salary of a paraprofessional.

Sarah Blaine asked the district to formally state — in writing to all parents — its policy regarding how children who are refusing the PARCC exams will be accommodated. Blaine went on to share how much instructional time was being lost due to PARCC prep.

Did you attend the meeting? Let us know what you think in comments.

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  1. Here are the bullet points that we can expect to season this discussion from the supporters of the PARCC, the BOE, and MacCormack.

    The PARCC – and it’s test-prepping curriculum the Common Core – are necessary because…

    – They increase rigor, grit, and expectations for our students.

    – They reduce the achievement gap.

    – They’re the law, and there’s nothing we can do about them except make the best of it. (paraphrased from BOE member Shelly Lombard at the 11/17 meeting)

    – They’re in the best interest of our students, so protesting them won’t achieve anything. (paraphrased from BOE member Leslie Larson at the 11/17 meeting)

    – They’ll make our students college and career ready.

    – They’ll make our students more competitive.

    So now that we’ve gotten that unproven marketing B.S. out of the way – which are goals of the PARCC and Common Core and not actual results – maybe we can get some reality going here.

  2. I don’t think marketing B.S. is the intent of PARCC and the Common Core. At its center is the very real goal of improving education for all students. That is the key: all students. We need to have some kind of foundation that gives all our children the same chance to succeed. That is different, mind you, than ensuring a lowest common denominator outcome at graduation. We know right now many kids never get those basics down, and it makes the rest of their schooling an awful trudge. This is hard, it is, but there needs to be more than attacks.

    Sorry for the rant, I’m tired.

  3. If the intent of The PARCC and Common Core is improving education for all students, they are astoundingly missing the mark. Remember, NY is ahead of NJ in the Common Core and related testing and we already see the negative results there. a huge amount of educAtiors and developmental experts have denounced the Common Core as developmentally inappropriate and high stakes tests lead to. Narrowing of the curriculum, unnecessary stress and endless test prep. My third grader at Bullock was spending time just yesterday on PARCC test prep in Math. This after being told ad nauseous ther was no test prep going on. The achievement gap is already widening. Those with money are hiring tutors and those without will fall behind. Those with disabilities are being told you should be keeping up me your disability is just an excuse. The pacing is ridiculous and the teachers have repeatedly told us that. We must refuse the tests and protect our children from harm.

  4. Liz…terrific reporting. For almost every parent in the Montclair school district, this is the #1 issue on our plates. One of our kids went from loving math and being a straight A student to hating math, because the “demands” of common core forced two years of math into one year when he was at Glenfield last year. His entire class struggled. Almost everyone who could afford it–and some who could not–had to hire tutors just to keep from failing. One of our other kids is at Hillside and is driven to tears daily from the PARCC prep work brought home. These are meant as a way to prepare for assessments, and I try my best to help with these but they are so confusing and poorly written, it usually ends with tears and then we try our best to finish in the morning during breakfast.

  5. I can’t seem to find an answer to this question, what if your kid does poorly on the PARCC test? Are they “tracked” accordingly? And if yes, most know that if your kid does well in math, with teacher support, and parental complains, regardless of a standardized test scores, the kid can usually be placed in a class.

    So then, why are folks letting this test control everything? Are teachers basing classwork on the “prep” tests? Some seem like, while others don’t.

    I’m confused and would appreciate some help.

  6. Also, while we’re on the subject of using PARCC for tracking, maybe if the BOE believes that PARCC is a worthwhile assessment, they should put their money where their mouths are.

    They should each take the high school version of the PARCC, and then submit their answers to whatever grading process the students will be subjected to. If they don’t do well, they should resign their positions on the board.

  7. sandybeach, you’re making the same error that all Common Core/PARCC supporters make: you’re confusing the GOALS with the RESULTS.

    Goals are intentions. Results are actualities. For example, it was the GOAL of the New York Jets to have a winning record this season, but the team’s RESULTS are pretty bad: two wins and 9 losses.

    Do you see the difference? No matter what the theoretical glorious goals of the Common Core/PARCC are (which have been sold to us by the BOE and MacCormack as realities), there are – and will be – no comparable results to speak of.

    Not only that, the Common Core’s and PARCC’s slipshod creation and flawed implementation guarantee that the gulf between the goals and results will be wide, wide, wide.

  8. “They should each take the high school version of the PARCC, and then submit their answers to whatever grading process the students will be subjected to. If they don’t do well, they should resign their positions on the board.”

    This seems fair. No standardized test is going to be perfect. I think we need to consider averages when looking at the results, as long as the distribution is somewhat normal I think its ok. We need to test it for 5 years or so to figure it out.

  9. Thanks for the links, but is the PARCC just an assessment? And if so, why are teachers teaching (and making home life so awful for many) PARCC “Prep” to students?

    I recognize that Common Core is an issue (the fact that this well educated prof who knows math can’t help his kid is a problem- thank God for mrs. prof!), but if PARCC is just to evaluate the school, what IF you kid doesn’t take it?

    But why are teachers teaching “PARCC prep” rather than the work that leads to an kids who can do well on the test?

    Understand, worry I always had was that many teachers are not very good, and would rather just use the “teacher’ editing-type” of work rather than using it as a complement to their presentations.

    Still, teaching to the test works- if the test is good.

  10. Isn’t PARCC part of the implementation of Race To The Top? The citizens of Montclair voted 83% for it’s proponent in 2008 and 2012 as teachers across the country cheered on. You get what you vote for….not that there are any great alternatives….looks like Montclair may become fertile ground for the Tea Party. Centralized government isn’t what it’s cracked up to be…by the way, like always, it doesn’t matter which party is in power….all you have to do is follow the money.

  11. If anything, this is all part of the Ted Kennedy, bipartisan (remember those days), Bush signed, No Child Left Behind Law. Which for the first time, took education from a local issue (education is NOT a federal right, not even mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights) and made it a national issue.

    Some of its goals are laudable, but like most big Gov. plans, the details have played out to great harm.

    And for these reasons, since I believe that Private Schools that do no accept federal funding do not have to follow Common Core, going private might be the answer.

    So much for public education if it leaves your kids crying and parents screaming.

  12. Nothing is perfect, there are lots of flaws with PARCC, absolutely, but it’s about putting a test together that is fair to everyone helps turn those goals into results.

    The tests aren’t just goals and results, it’s process too. They are designed to teach the mechanics as well as overall concepts. For most of us and our kids we can read something and understand it. Being able to key in on on WHY it makes sense is so important as these kids go from grade to grade and eventually (god willing) graduate.

    If you read an essay then pick apart the the thesis and supporting details you are going to get more out it and use that experience in the future. The same with math when you have more than A, B, or C to choose from. When you can get into the guts of a problem you are more likely to walk away with some knowledge beyond phew, got it right let’s get out of here.

  13. I’m not trying to be a cheerleader here. This is going to be messy for sure, changes like this just are. Surely though we can stop going at each others’ throats and talk about it like the friends and community members that we are. I also wouldn’t frame it as a corporate takeover. Until the public school system gets its own corps of computer programmers and printers we’ll have to go to the private sector to fill the need.

  14. Knashvukke, if by fair to all you mean no one will do well, then I would agree. Have you taken a trial test? I have taken the third grade ELA test and I can tell you the average third grader would not do well on them. I would encourage all parents take a practice PARCC and make up your own minds

    And are you saying the tests are designed to teach? Than that shows the common core is designed to teach to the test. A one size fits all approach is not educating all children or showing fairness. Expecting children to meet the same standards at the same time is not acknowledging that children have different levels of abilities. Expecting children to think in the same way and approach things in the same way is not fair. We are all individual and that individuality should be honored.

    Keep in mind that many states have left the PARCC consortium. We are down to 12 or 13 and not all are administering them this year. Gail Clarke has been telling parents at the PARCC presentation that colleges will be looking at the PARCC. That is not true. No college has said that and over 840 have said they no longer need to look at standardized test scores because they are not predictors of college success. Grades however are. Standardized tests show well a child’s income level. We are already seeing that the haves are hiring tutors and the have nits are left to twist in the wind.

    Avid parents expressing themselves are Board meetings and their concerns about the tests is not people being at each other’s throats. If you watched the Board meeting you would see teachers and parents speaking from the heart.

    I have tins if research and data to show standardized tests do not measure academic achievement but rather social status. Where is the evidence to the contrary?

  15. Hold on there, knashville – you’re passing off a lot of PARCC propaganda as legitimate fact, including:

    “They are designed to teach the mechanics as well as overall concepts.” – RLY? If that’s the case, then the folks who did the designing haven’t succeeded. Speak to parents who were involved in the local Take the PARCC events. The takeaway was that the PARCC execution of your stated goal was quite poor, confusing, and not at all beneficial/helpful/useful.

    “Being able to key in on on WHY it makes sense is so important as these kids go from grade to grade and eventually (god willing) graduate.” – I agree. But as is, the PARCC doesn’t do this.

    “When you can get into the guts of a problem you are more likely to walk away with some knowledge beyond phew, got it right let’s get out of here.” – Right, ok, but as with the above, PARCC doesn’t achieve this.

    “I’m not trying to be a cheerleader here.” – O RLY?

    “This is going to be messy for sure, changes like this just are.” – Ah yes, a favorite line of BOE and MacCormack supporters:

    “I also wouldn’t frame it as a corporate takeover.” O RLY??? You obviously haven’t been grasping the “overall concepts” in your CCSS recommended “close reading”:

    As stated in my post at the top of this conversation: please don’t confuse the GOALS of the CCSS/PARCC with the RESULTS. They are not the same thing.

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