South Orange-Maplewood BOE Weighs Options on PARCC Opting Out

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The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education had a lengthly discussion at it monthly meeting on Monday to debate the possible adoption of a policy to address parents opting their children out of the upcoming PARCC exams.

Board members seemed divided on whether the board should adopt an official policy on the matter, rather than simply having the administration craft specific procedures on how administrators should handle opt-out students.

Districts across the state have been grappling with the issue.

NJ Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would establish accommodations for opting out of PARCC.

Several New Jersey school districts have created policies that clarify PARCC refusal. The Bloomfield Board of Education passed a resolution saying the district won’t punish students who skip the tests and will provide educational alternatives, when possible, according to The Princeton Public Schools require parents to submit a written letter if they want do not want their child to sit for the PARCC. Those children will be in a separate room during testing time and may read or work independently under staff supervision. The Montclair Board of Education is set to vote on an opt-out policy at its next meeting.

During the public comment period, Matthew Malespina, a 6th grader at SOMS, asked the board to put a policy in place “that allows for me and my family to not be penalized for not taking the test, and allows me a place to go while testing is occurring,” said Malespina. He continued, “A lot of other school districts have done so, why not us?”

Susan Grierson said that while the district was still ironing out the details of the policy, “there will be no disciplinary action taken” against students who opt out, and that the district wanted to “minimize the stress for everybody involved” and maintain a “safe environment.”

BOE member Donna Smith said that after looking to other nearby districts for guidance, the Policy and Monitoring Committee drafted a statement that notes that while the district is obligated by the state to administer the test, opt-out students should be provided with educationally appropriate and non-punitive responses. The policy leaves it up to the administration to craft the details.

Smith said she was initially concerned that creating a formal board policy would encourage more parents to opt out; however, she changed her mind after talking to parents who said they would not have their children take the test regardless of whether the district had a policy.

Board member Elizabeth Baker questioned the district’s legal latitude in permitting students to opt out, noting she didn’t want to jeopardize the district’s state and federal funding. Board member Jeff Bennett asked Grierson if children opting out would be in the same room as test-taking students, and if parents opting out would be asked to submit a letter. Grierson said they were still working out the details.

BOE member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad said she was concerned about putting an official board policy in place during a time of transition, when the PARCC test was brand-new to everyone. “To me [it] sends a very wrong message.”

“I think every parent has a right to make decisions where their children’s education is concerned,” said Johanna Wright. “this is something we should have talked about a long time ago.”

Daugherty asked Grierson and Acting Superintendent James Memoli how the district previously dealt with students who chose to opt out of standardized tests. Grierson said parents would generally keep their children out of school on those days; however, PARCC testing is spread out in shorter increments over a longer period of days, which would make it “unreasonable” for students to miss so many days of school.

Daugherty said the district should have consistent procedures in place, and noted that the Millburn School District had a procedure requiring parents to contact their school’s principal if they wished for their child to opt out. Millburn administrators have said opt-out students will be allowed to read in the classroom while others are taking the test, she said.

“I just worry about the mixed messaging that as a board if we adopt this policy we are making a statement against PARCC, as opposed to making sure there are procedures in place….” said Daugherty.

Grierson noted that the district didn’t have additional personnel, or space within the building, to have students be in other rooms during PARCC testing. Acting Superintendent James Memoli said if a student stays home from school on testing days, she or he will be marked absent.

Maggie Kritzberg, the student representative to the board, said that “…students are worried…and nervous about the test.” She noted her concern about how students would be judged at the state level, and how the test will count if some students take it and others don’t.

Grierson said the district will receive scores in September, and “like any other assessment, we take it with a grain of salt.” She continued, “We know that students are more than the sum of assessments…it’s just one part.”

Grierson assured board members that by the time PARCC rolls around in March, “a procedure will be in place.”

The board will vote on the policy at its next meeting on February 22, said BOE President Wayne Eastman.


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