With the opt-out option growing in popularity across the state, educators and lawmakers rush to accommodate families who just say ‘no’

The debate over PARCC testing is hardly ebbing, so it should come as no surprise that districts and legislators are both treading carefully as they plot procedures and policies.

This week, the Assembly is taking up a bill that would establish a statewide policy for families sitting out of the tests and considering another measure that would delay the use of Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores for the next three years.

Meanwhile, districts continue to talk through how they will handle families that decide to have their kids opt out of the new testing, which starts next month statewide.

Advocates say that as many as 50 districts have policies ready or in place.

In Freehold for instance, the policy to be considered by the board this week will include a separate room for students to do homework or other independent work, but no extra or alternative instruction.

But some high-profile districts are purposely not holding votes on separate policies so as not to encourage opting out, although they will have procedures in place. One is Millburn, where superintendent James Crisfield said students who do not participate will be able to do independent reading in the testing room while their classmates take the exams.

Crisfield didn’t hide his concerns with the new testing, including its duration and its use in teacher evaluation. But he also called the testing in language arts and math a valuable “data point” for measuring student progress that will be like many other assessments used.

He also said he couldn’t force families to participate, adding that he won’t punish students who refuse. As for an alternative instruction or even a separate space set aside, Crisfield said there will be neither.

“We don’t have the resources of another room or certainly an alternative program,” Crisfield said.

The same sort of back and forth is taking place on the state level, too, as legislators are trying to get ahead of the controversy that has engulfed New Jersey’s education policy.

The Assembly education committee is holding a hearing on Thursday where it will take up several PARCC bills, one that would require districts set up alternative programs for families refusing to participate and another that would delay the use of PARCC results altogether. The second bill is to be filed tomorrow.

“It’s always been my point that we have gotten ahead of ourselves with PARCC,” said state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), the committee chairman who is sponsor or cosponsor of each of the bills.

Diegnan said in an interview yesterday that the testing itself should go on as planned, and he thinks the assessments will have value. But recognizing the uproar, he said test results wouldn’t be used in judging teachers or schools -- or students -– while the state and perhaps a new study commission review the results.

“The results will be compiled for reference, but they won’t be used for that period of time,” he said

Diegnan’s opt-out bill has a long and bipartisan list of cosponsors. It would require parents to give written notification to districts ahead of time and districts to provide an alternative plan for students who opt out.

“A school district or charter school would be required to provide educationally appropriate alternative activities for a student who, under the bill, is not participating in the administration of a PARCC assessment,” reads the bill. “Any such alternative activity must occur in a room other than the room in which the assessment is being administered.”

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, (D-Burlington) the committee’s vice chairman, also proposed an opt-out bill that is similar in scope. He said yesterday that he wanted to fill the void left by the Christie administration, which has said that students are required to attend school during testing, the same as any other schoolday, but would leave it to districts as to how they deal with those opting out.

The bill is “designed to fill the void created by the administration not developing a uniform policy with regards to parents having their children opt out of the PARCC assessment,” he said in an email last night.

“I hope that children will sit for the test, but in the event that some parents keep them from doing such, we have an obligation to afford them with a suitable educational activity, in my opinion.”


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