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Democrats' Legislation Seeks to Address Growing Concerns Over PARCC Tests

But attempt to respond to protests while proceeding with controversial assessments doesn’t placate critics

NEW Ruiz
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)

The debate over how schools -- and the state as a whole – should respond to the growing protests over the new PARCC tests will take a new turn next week, as legislators look at a package of bills described by its chief sponsor as an attempt to find a middle ground.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chairman of the Senate education committee, and other leading Democrats say the legislation addresses concerns about the new online testing, while still proceeding with the assessments.

For instance, Ruiz has introduced a nonbinding resolution calling on the state to set guidelines for how schools should students whose parents “opt out” of the PARCC tests – a number that some count put as high as 40,000 or 50,000 children this spring.

Another bill, filed by state Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), would require schools and the state to publicly post the numbers of families opting out of the tests.

And Gill has filed another bill that would prohibit the state from withholding funding from districts with high opt-out numbers, as the Christie administration has threatened to do.

“We’re making sure that the state is providing the best information to parents and others most interested in the terms of the testing,” Ruiz said in an interview yesterday.

Gill said of her bill: ”When the Commissioner of Education stated that he was considering withholding state education funding based upon the number of students who participated in the PARCC exams, I said enough is enough.”

The bills are to be taken up by the Senate education committee on Monday.

But whether the legislation would be enough to tone down the heated debate over PARCC is an open question.

The package to be heard next week, for one, has a glaring omission: a pending bill, already approved in the Assembly, that would put a three-year moratorium on using the test results in evaluations of teachers and schools.

Ruiz’s resolution calling for the state to provide opt-out guidelines also falls short of another pending bill that would put those guidelines into law.

Before they are even heard next week, several of the new bills are already coming under fire from critics of the testing. Save Our Schools-NJ, a parent-led organization that has been among the most vocal of the PARCC critics, issued a press release yesterday that rejected each of Ruiz's bills.

Chief target of the complaints was Ruiz’s refusal to post the three-year moratorium.

"The PARCC tests are brand new and may not be reliable or valid,” said Christina Cunha-Moreira, an Elizabeth parent quoted in the release.

“Yet, without this legislation, districts and charter schools will be able to use results of the experimental PARCC tests to make decisions about class placements, admission to gifted and talented and remedial programs, and even whether children receive special services. We need (the bill) to keep our children safe.”

Ruiz yesterday maintained that she and the Democratic leadership had addressed the most significant of the concerns about PARCC in introducing the new bills and in their request last month that the Christie administration delay the use of PARCC in evaluating teachers.

In a letter to the state Education Commissioner David Hespe, Ruiz and Senate President Steve Sweeney asked the administration to wait until next year to increase the weight PARCC results are given in teacher evaluations – it now accounts for 10 percent of the overall rating.

“Both the leaderships and myself feel that we are addressing the concerns,” Ruiz said.

No action has been taken on that requested delay, Hespe said yesterday. “We continue to evaluate the request and all the information we can,” the commissioner said.

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