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Fine Print: PARCC Opt-Out Bill Passes Unanimously in State Assembly

Future hardly assured with Senate so far quiet on setting statewide policy for families refusing to let kids take test

statehouse (trenton)
Credit: Amanda Brown

What it is: The bill (A-4165) sets a statewide policy for schools to follow for kids who are sitting out the new online PARCC testing. It includes standards for schools to provide alternative programs for those students and also sets a procedure for families to notify the schools in advance.

What it means: The 72-0 vote marked a rare show of bipartisan support for what has become one of the state’s most contentious topics, with thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- so far opting out of the tests. With Republicans jumping on board, some wondered if it signaled that Gov. Chris Christie might go along, even if he has publicly continued to back the tests.

But: Even so, the prospects in the Senate are slim, at least at the moment, and others saw little risk for the Republicans. The Democratic leadership so far is not moving on this bill or another one that would slow down the use of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores in teacher or school evaluations. And now that the Senate has gone into a budget recess and any such action is all but ruled out for at least several months.

The impetus: The legislation comes as districts continue to grapple with how to deal with rising numbers of families sitting out the tests for on one reason or another. Much of the disagreement is about what some see as an over-testing culture in the state’s schools; others oppose the nationwide Common Core State Standards that drive the testing; and for others it’s a combination of the above and more.

How many exactly: The precise number of opt-outs has been elusive, with state officials saying they would not have a count until the first round of PARCC testing is completed in the first week of April. The New Jersey Education Association, which has led much of the opposition to the testing, including an expensive TV campaign, said it has counted through news reports and other sources an estimated 40,000 children sitting out the tests. The NJEA’s list is available online.

What the bill would do: The legislation would set a standard policy for districts to follow allowing families to notify a district of their decision, and requiring the school to provide a setting away from the testing for those children.

*Exact words: “A school district or charter school shall provide educationally appropriate ungraded alternative activities, or allow the student to engage in supervised reading or other self-directed work, during the time in which the assessment is being administered. Any such activity shall not occur in the same room in which the assessment is being administered. In the event that a student’s regularly scheduled class is in session during the administration of a PARCC assessment, then the student shall be allowed to attend that class.”

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