A year ago, the movement for families to opt out of the then-brand-new PARCC tests was gaining ground in many districts and had the Christie administration on the defensive over what it and local schools should do.
For PARCC’s second year, which starts for elementary-school students next week, the statewide debate has been less raucous. And in a small sampling of districts, educators are saying they are not seeing anything like last year’s numbers.
But the debate is still going on, and feelings still run high when it comes to PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). A union-led group named New Jersey Kids and Families has helped organize communities across the state, including public forums.
The group, which is funded by the New Jersey Education Association, the state's dominant teachers union, has also printed and distributed 1,000 lawn signs “Our Family Refuses PARCC.” Another thousand signs are on the way.
“While New Jersey Kids and Families can speak for educators, the focus of the group is to support parents in their organizing efforts,” read an article posted the NJEA.
At the same time, Save Our Schools NJ has continued its grassroots campaign against state testing as a whole. And while it explicitly says it doesn’t support families oping out, it’s certainly not doing much to discourage the protests.
“We oppose high-stakes standardized tests because they are destructive to equity and to high-quality public education,” read a statement from SOS-NJ emailed yesterday. “Many of our organizers and members are refusing the tests for their children.
“More broadly, we want parents to have accurate and complete information so they can make the best decisions for their children,” it continued.
It’s hard to gauge at this point whether last year’s surge in opt outs will be replicated this year.The state never provided an exact count or even estimate of families opting out last year, saying it does not collect that data. But more than 130,000 students did not take the tests for whatever reasons, a figure exponentially higher in than previous years.
Those results prompted the Christie administration to step up its communications to districts as to what it says are the importance of the tests. It also pressed districts to complete improvement plans to get more students into the tests, including holding small-group meetings with parents.
The state released a variety of resources to districts, including an “action plan development guide” for meeting participation targets.
And a campaign called NJ Scores has been launched in specific districts under the banner of We Raise New Jersey, a coalition of school and other groups in favor of the testing.
“Now that we’re entering the second year of PARCC testing, educators and parents are seeing the benefits of PARCC,” said state Education Commissioner David Hespe in releasing the test results last month.
“They see it’s the most effective assessment tool the state has ever had, and they see how it can help improve teaching and learning in ways that our old tests never could. And that’s precisely where the focus should be: Improving the education we provide to children.”
The state cannot make good on a threat to withhold funding to a district or school high rates of refusal, thanks to a new state law that prohibits such penalties.