Assembly panel to take up bills to allow students to opt out of PARCC test

The debate over the new computer-based standardized test that some parents are against letting their children take is coming to the Statehouse.

The Assembly Education Committee is scheduled to take up a package of bills related to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam Thursday, including a measure establishing specific procedures for parents who do not want their children tested.

Another bill in the package would impose a three-year moratorium on using the PARCC test scores for student placements, grade promotion or graduation proficiency or as part of teacher evaluations.

A third measure scheduled to be debated would prohibit schools from administering standardized tests to kindergartners through second-graders.

The three bills were introduced earlier this month by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, D-18th of South Plainfield, and Sen. Shirley Turner, D-15th of Lawrenceville, in response to a growing movement among parents who want their children to be permitted to opt out of taking the PARCC tests.

The exams are aligned with the Common Core standards developed in 2009 and replace New Jersey's previous pencil-and-paper assessment tests, the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge and the High School Proficiency Assessment.

The PARCC tests, which are administered to students in third through 11th grades, are longer and some questions are more difficult by design. State education officials have stressed that the tests will provide more and better data about students' progress in a variety of subjects.

"The PARCC assessments were designed to — for the first time ever — give schools data that can help improve classroom instruction, and to provide parents with meaningful feedback that tells them how their child is progressing academically," New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Mike Yaple said Wednesday.

Performance on the exam is not being used to decide student promotion to the next grade level, and the 11th-grade test isn't scheduled to be a graduation requirement until 2018.

Gov. Chris Christie's administration also has reduced the amount of weight PARCC test scores will be given in evaluating math and language arts teachers this year.

Many parents are still concerned about the new, longer testing format and how the scores will be used to measure their children or teachers. Several have indicated they would refuse to allow their children to participate and have shown up at board of education meetings to ask if alternative activities will be provided to students who opt out of the examinations.

Moorestown resident Jack Fairchild voiced his concerns at a school board meeting last month.

"We want them to recognize refusals from either the student or parent," Fairchild said. "We also want them to provide appropriate alternative educational experiences and not placed within the testing center with the others."

The Department of Education has no standard policy related to students opting out of standardized tests, but has provided districts with guidance reminding them that the assessments are required by the federal government and that state laws and regulations require all students to take the exams.

"We encourage all chief school administrators to review the district's discipline and attendance policies to ensure they address situations that may arise during days that statewide assessments, such as PARCC, are being administered," Education Commissioner David Hespe wrote in an Oct. 30 memo to all public school superintendents.

Yaple said that taking assessment tests is an accepted expectation of students, and that districts should use their own policies and discretion when dealing with refusals from students or families, just as they would with most disciplinary matters.

Turner said parents were "justifiably concerned about the amount of testing being conducted in our school districts and the extraordinary amount of time that students spent 'learning for the test.' "

"We have to take a closer look at the assessments that are being given to our students and find ways to expand the classroom time for children to actually learn and retain material that is important to their educational advancement," she said in a statement. "This means eliminating unnecessary testing and clarifying that parents have the right to decide whether their children should take part in certain exams."

Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco, also have introduced legislation requiring districts to provide alternative activities for students not participating in certain standardized tests.

Students are scheduled to begin taking the PARCC test next month, so the lawmakers' legislation would apply only to future assessments.

Also, the Christie administration has created a special commission to examine issues surrounding the assessments administered by the state, including their effectiveness, frequency and student impact.

The nine-member group, known as the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments, has held two regional public hearings already. A third hearing, which was postponed Jan. 27 because of snow forecasts, has been rescheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 19 at Camden County College in Blackwood.

Written comments also will be accepted by the commission by email at [email protected].


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