With the first round of PARCC standardized testing set to start March 2, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education will vote on a policy Monday that would address students whose parents are choosing to opt them out of the upcoming exams.
The policy states that while the district is mandated by the state to administer the PARCC, it “recognizes that some parents choose to have their children decline to take one or more of the standardized tests” and will meet refusals with “educationally appropriate and non-punitive, responses.” The policy directs the Superintendent to establish a procedure.
District spokeswoman Suzanne Turner said Thursday that discussions on parental refusal policies and procedures were ongoing and would be presented to the community on Monday. “We can’t really provide more information until that happens. A letter will go home to all families no later than next Tuesday updating them on PARCC procedures.”
PARCC testing takes place during two separate periods, in March and in late April/early May. Read the district’s recent “PARCC 101” presentation for specific information on testing dates and more.
In a discussion at its last meeting when the policy was introduced, board members seemed divided on whether it should adopt an official policy or instead leave it to the administration to figure out procedures for opt-out students.
“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 board member Beth Daugherty.
Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Grierson said at the meeting that “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.”
Some SOMSD parents have sent refusal letters to the district. One parent said she received a reply from Acting Superintendent James Memoli stating, “Your request will be honored without penalizing [your child] in any way.”
However, the details of where “non-testing” students will physically be during the PARCC — in the room with other students taking the test, or in a separate room and permitted to read or engage in some other enrichment or educational activity — is still unclear.
In the absence of direct guidance from the state, districts have been left to figure out on their own how to craft procedures to address opt-out students. A bill currently before the state Assembly’s education committee would set a statewide policy for districts to follow in allowing families to refuse to participate in PARCC.
Several districts in neighboring towns — including Montclair, Livingston and West Orange have recently taken steps to codify their opt-out policies, according to an article on NJ.com
The Montclair Board of Education voted recently to adopt a parental refusal policy. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Penny McCormack said the district has always permitted parents to decline state tests.
“The idea that Montclair would forcibly make a child take a test is unfounded and against our values as a community,” said McCormack, according to a recent article on Baristanet.
McCormack also sent a memo to principals earlier this month stating that parents must notify them in writing if they refuse for their child to sit for the exam, and that each school must create alternative plans for students that must be “supervised, with a defined location and may include but are not limited to independent reading and schoolwork in a non-testing room.”
Recently, a group of parents formed South Orange Maplewood Parents for Quality Education, which advocates for the right of parents to opt their children out of PARCC and urges the BOE to adopt the parental refusal policy.
But as the opt-out movement continues to grow, some administrators have cautioned that it is a step in the wrong direction. Millburn Township Schools Superintendent James Crisfeld wrote an Op-Ed cautioning that “the recent grassroots movement to ‘opt-out’…is leading us down a very dangerous path in New Jersey public education.”
While sharing many concerns parents have about PARCC, he decried the “political hysteria” that leads to the belief that parents and students can “opt out” of anything they disagree with.
“…the opt-out movement has to stop,” he concludes.