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An analysis of PARCC exams data released earlier this week by New Jersey education officials shows that high schools and wealthy school districts had the largest percentages of students who opted out of last year’s controversial assessments or did not take the tests for some other reason not related to absence.
However, an exact count of parents who specifically chose not to have their children take the standardized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers may never be known.
In releasing school-by-school results from the 2015 PARCC testing in grade 3 through grade 11, the state Department of Education did not provide specific numbers of students who opted out of the testing — and it is unclear whether officials even have that number.
What the department did release, in addition to data for each test by grade level and school, was the number of test registrations marked “not tested: other” for each district.
This category excludes students who did not test due to an absence or medical emergency. The reasons in this “other” category include opt-outs, as well as four other possible explanations, according to Michael Yaple, a DOE spokesman.
“The numbers of students who were marked ‘Not Tested’ cannot be given as any accurate measure of parent refusals,” Yaple said. “Making such a suggestion would be erroneous.”
With that caveat, an analysis of the DOE data shows that districts with the greatest percentages of tests falling into that “not tested: other” category were high schools and those at higher socioeconomic levels, as measured by the department’s District Factor Groupings.
At the top of that list is a district that fits both those criteria: the Northern Highlands Regional district in Bergen County. Ranked among the wealthiest districts in the state, Northern Highlands Regional is composed of one high school and draws students from Allendale, Ho-Ho-Kus, Saddle River and Upper Saddle River. The DOE data shows that of 1,509 language arts and higher-level math tests that were to be taken, 1,037, or 68.7, were not completed due to “other” reasons.
Two other Bergen high school districts measuring high socioeconomically — Ramapo-Indian Hills and Pascack Valley Regional — ranked second and fourth in the “not tested: other” category, with rates of 66.5 percent and 54.5 percent, respectively. The district with the third-highest rate of “other” non-testing, 56.1 percent, was the North Warren Regional district, which has one school serving grades 7 through 12 and ranks in the top half of districts in the state according to wealth factors.
Montclair was the comprehensive K-12 district with the highest “other” rate — 47.5 percent. It is in the second-highest socioeconomic category.
Some individual urban schools joined suburban and wealthy schools in registering high rates of students not testing for all reasons including absence and illness. In fact, Science Park High School in Newark had the highest percentage of 10th-graders who did not take the language arts test — 178, or 93.2 percent of the 191 who were expected to take the test. As a whole, 16.2 percent of all tests throughout all schools in the Newark district were not taken due to “other” reasons.
In releasing statewide PARCC data last month, the DOE noted that the percentage of students who did not test for “other” reasons increased with each grade level, with more than a quarter of high school juniors not taking the language arts test and almost 23 percent not taking a math test.
Last year saw a movement to have students opt out of PARCC. While the state had expected students to take nearly 1.8 million language arts and math tests, nearly 200,000 of those were not completed due to “other” reasons, a rate of nearly 11 percent.
On the other hand, the data shows 90 districts with no students missing the PARCC tests due to “other” reasons. While these tended to be K-8 districts and charter schools, the list includes four vocational districts and three regional high school districts, including Watchung Hills and Rumson-Fair Haven, which are ranked in the top two socioeconomic groupings.
While this district data was more comprehensive in reporting the not-testing rates, no data was given for 86 districts. The DOE reported that it followed state and federal guidelines in suppressing data to protect student confidentiality.
According to Yaple, in addition to opting out, these are the most common reasons why students who did not test were marked “other”:
* Students who participated in an alternate assessment for English Language Learners or for certain students with cognitive disabilities;
* Students who either moved or transferred to other schools;
* High school students who enrolled in a math course for the first part of the semester and were administered the Performance-Based Assessment component and then transferred to another course before the End-of-Year component began;
* Students who chose not to take the test because they had already met their assessment graduation requirement.
Student proficiency on the PARCC was significantly lower than on previous tests administered in New Jersey. Overall, only about half of the state’s students met the expectations as set by PARCC for the first year, and the rate was as low as a quarter in some high school math results.