As the PARCC approach, with the first round of testing for New Jersey 3rd through 11th graders set to begin in March, growing numbers of parents and educators have been voicing concerns about the standardized tests. Some parents have said they will refuse to have their children sit for the exams, which is known informally as “opting out.”
One South Orange – Maplewood School District parent said she will refuse to allow her middle schooler to take the exam, but she is concerned about how the district plans to handle opt-out students on test days.
“I was hoping the district would come up with a policy that allows for parents to have an alternative setting,” she said.
“I feel that if the district was OK with kids opting out (or at least neutral), I would be more inclined to encourage my kids to opt out if they wanted,” said Rita Desnoyers-Garcia, who has three children in the district.
“The district is obligated by state regulations to administer the PARCC exam to all students,” said Suzanne Turner, spokeswoman for the South Orange – Maplewood School District, in an email. “The district’s attendance policies and regulations will continue to be followed during this time. Therefore, the only activity provided during the testing periods will be the test itself. There are no current plans to create new board policy around testing administration.”
A set of computer-based assessments in Language Arts and Mathematics that is aligned with the Common Core Standards, PARCC has been criticized by some as being poorly designed and confusing, and a drain on regular classroom instructional time.
Desnoyers-Garcia said she thinks the tests are “sucking the joy out of learning language arts, math, science.” She continued, “The teachers in our schools are amazing, but there seems to be so much pressure to prep for these tests that it is taking time and resources away from time better spent letting the teachers teach in the most inspiring ways.”
State regulations stipulate that students may not refuse to take the test, and that school districts are obligated to administer it, but officials have conceded that the situation is more complicated. As state board President Mark Biedron recently said in a public forum, “Nobody can force your child to put their hands on the keyboard.”
State Education Commissioner David Hespe said that unless students refusing the test are being disruptive, districts “should have a policy of what you do with that child.”
Two new bills, to “push back against PARCC and other forms of high-stakes standardized testing,” will be introduced by NJ Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, on Monday, according to Save Our Schools.
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 NJ.com.
Millburn Township Public Schools is in the process of deciding what opt-out students will do while testing is taking place, and students absent on a testing day will receive an excused absence. The Princeton Public Schools created a policy that requires 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.
In Montclair, the Board of Education will vote on Monday on a policy that states that the decision of parents to refuse PARCC testing for their children will be met with “educationally appropriate and non-punative measures.”
“SOMSD has very little latitude in the administration of PARCC,” said Turner, “If a child attends school on a testing date, we are required to administer the test to them. We cannot force them to type answers, but neither can we excuse them from the experience.” She continued, “Students always finish state-mandated testing at different paces. Generally students who are finished early have the opportunity to engage in a quiet activity such as independent reading.”
Turner referred to The New Jersey School Boards Association FAQ about PARCC, attached as a PDF:
SOMSD BOE President Wayne Eastman told the Village Green in a phone interview that, “The situation with PARCC and the state’s position is a rapidly evolving one. Given [State Commissioner] Hespe’s statement, there are issues where there may be a need for the BOE to consider involvement” and further discussion on the district’s policy.
Eastman said such a discussion “could be on the table as early as [Monday’s BOE meeting.]
Desnoyers-Garcia said that given the growing resistance to the PARCC in New Jersey, she is taking a wait-and-see attitude. “I feel like I’m kind of watching what’s going on and seeing if this whole thing collapses from its own weight.”
South Orange Middle School and Maplewood Middle School are hosting a joint PARCC parent night Wednesday, February 4, at 7:30 p.m. at SOMS. Administrators will discuss design of the test, the problem types it features, and how parents can support their child’s success at home.
The Parenting Center and the Elementary School PTAs are hosting a PARCC Testing Overview for elementary school students, with a presentation by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Grierson, at 7:30 p.m. on February 5, at Seth Boyden School, 274 Boyden Avenue in Maplewood.