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Op-Ed: Why Some Parents in NJ Are Refusing High-Stakes Standardized Tests

Stopping kids from taking the exams doesn't just express a parent’s anxieties for kids, it also demonstrates concerns about the school system

julie borst
Julie Borst

Parents have always had the right to refuse standardized tests for their children, and in prior years, many took advantage of that right. With the onset of PARCC testing this spring, the number of parents refusing has increased dramatically, reflecting growing parental concerns about the PARCC tests and about high-stakes standardized testing, more broadly.

We asked New Jersey parents to explain why they were refusing the PARCC tests for their children, and more than 80 responded.

Aside from concerns for their own children, parents are refusing high-stakes standardized tests because of the tests’ impact on public schools, including:

  • narrowing the curriculum

  • consuming instructional time

  • failing to improve educational outcomes

  • increasing costs to districts for infrastructure to administer the tests

  • absorbing teacher professional development time, and

  • encouraging teaching to the test

Parents also object to the forced imposition of ever-greater amounts of high-stakes standardized testing, and the increased use of such tests to punish students, teachers, and public schools.

And parents are frustrated because they feel that their voices are being ignored at both the state and federal levels of government. For many suburban parents in particular, this is a moment of political awakening as they confront what urban parents have known for a while -- that the political system seems rigged in favor of those with the most resources.

New Jersey school districts are caught in the middle, between angry parents on the one side and the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) on the other. The NJDOE appears determined to minimize the number of families who refuse the PARCC tests, regardless of what it takes.

School districts report that the NJDOE has threatened any public school with less than 95 percent PARCC participation with:

These NJDOE actions seem intended to coerce school districts into adopting punitive policies toward children whose parents refuse the PARCC tests and to intimidate parents into having their children participate in those tests.

Fortunately, many school districts are refusing to subject students whose families have refused the tests to punitive measures such as "sit and stare," which forces children as young as eight to do nothing for hours, while their classmates are tested. As of this writing, more than 216 New Jersey districts have adopted humane policies and procedures for dealing with students whose families are refusing to allow them to take the PARCC tests.

In addition to their school districts, parents also have asked their state and federal legislators to provide some commonsense relief to high-stakes standardized testing. In the meantime, parents are taking personal action by refusing the tests in order to protect their children and their public schools.

Test refusals should not be feared. They are not leading us down a dangerous path. Rather, the refusals are a reflection of parents' commitment to their children, to public schools, and to ideals of democratic process and participation.

Julie Borst is a resident of Allendale, the mother of a high school sophomore, and a Save Our Schools NJ volunteer organizer. She cowrote this with other Save Our Schools NJ volunteer organizers.

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