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Laura Waters

I Give Them a ‘D’ for the Campaign Against PARCC Testing

After all the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)-sponsored television and radio commercials that solicited parents to opt their children out of PARCC, after all of Save Our Schools-NJ’s anti-PARCC events, students in New Jersey began taking the new standardized annual assessments that replace ASK and HSPA tests this week. How successful was this campaign, motivated by anger against New Jersey’s new tenure law that links student outcomes to 10% of teacher evaluations, as well as concerns about the switch from fill-in-the-bubble tests to computer-based assessments? It’s fair to say that NJEA and SOS-NJ achieved success in four N.J. school districts: Princeton, Ridgewood, Livingston, and Delran. N.J. has 591 school districts.
  • Princeton: The home of SOS-NJ’s founder, Julia Sass Rubin. There, according to the Wall Street Journal, “more than half of the high-school students who are scheduled to take them in coming days said they wouldn’t.” Princeton Superintendent Stephen Cochrane explained that many of the students opting out, 750 high school students out of an enrollment of 1,164, were more focused on AP and SAT tests. Current state regulations permit students to graduate high school with an SAT score of 1550, hardly a stretch for Princeton’s affluent high-achievers, so they didn’t need to take the test anyway. (Here’s a link to anti-PARCC forum in Princeton hosted by SOS-NJ.)
  • Ridgewood: A wealthy town in Bergen County. There, according to the same article, “more than 200 high-school students out of about 1,300 potential test-takers in upper grades alerted staff they wouldn’t participate.”
  • Livingston: Gov. Christie’s affluent hometown. Again, the Journal: “Interim Superintendent James O’Neill has been a vocal critic of using the new tests to judge students, teachers and schools before it was piloted.” One 11-year-old student said, “It didn’t seem to be as hard as we all expected. All the teachers were stressing.”
  • Delran: The town’s NJEA unit has actively promoted opt-outs. The Courier-Post says that figures were not available from the Delran district, where the website lists “refusal deadlines and procedures” for parents. But Delran teacher Michael Kaminski, a test opponent, said 500 of the 1,800 eligible students have refused to take the tests. (See here, where I look at Delran Education Association's “massive position statement” detailing its “defiant opposition to the New Jersey Department of Education’s obsession with the use of high-stakes standardized testing.”)

Some Minor Glitches

Most of New Jersey reported generally smooth testing conditions, except for the delayed opening on Monday for many schools because of icy roads that prompted some to delay the first day of testing to Tuesday. Still, there were a few technological problems. West Windsor-Plainsboro had to delay testing for one day because of a technological glitch, but things went fine on Tuesday. Union Township students can’t take the PARCC until Thursday because someone from outside hacked into the district’s internet system and overloaded the network. The superintendent there, Gregory Tatum, said “the district’s system has plenty of bandwidth for PARCC but that there obviously is someone who is infiltrating our system.” He’ll call the police if the state’s investigation confirms vandalism. Kenilworth Superintendent Scott Taylor said Monday, “everything ran flawlessly.” In Cedar Grove, a few students accidentally logged off of the test before they were finished and needed teachers to get them back into the PARCC program. Superintendent Michael Fetherman said, “It’s not really rocket science, you just sort of reboot, just jump start the whole thing. It picks up right where they left off.” Other small glitches:
In Maywood, there was a 10-minute delay because of problems loading data to the server, but officials had planned for an extra half hour in case of hiccups, Superintendent Michael Jordan said. In Fort Lee, error codes appeared in exams, but that was resolved within minutes, said a school official. In Fair Lawn, a student said it took a long time for videos to load on the exams.
In South Jersey:
Woodbine, Ocean City, Northfield and Hamilton reported a few technology glitches that were quickly resolved. Officials in Margate, Port Republic, Wildwood, Stafford Township and Avalon said testing went smoothly. Some districts, including Atlantic City Mainland Regional and Cumberland Regional had scheduled a later start and did no testing Monday.

The Numbers

What were the opt-out numbers like? Pretty low. On Monday, about 100,000 students took PARCC tests, said Commissioner David Hespe, not that far off from historical numbers. On Tuesday, about 240,000 did, which, according to NJ Spotlight, is “more than in any of the other nearly dozen states taking part in the testing consortium.” According to NJ.com:
  • “Edison, which has about 13,000 students in the grades being tested has just shy of 100 refusals, Superintendent Richard O'Malley said.”
  • “Glen Ridge reported about 12 students out of 1,275 in grades 3 to 11 refused the tests. In East Brunswick, about 23 fifth graders refused testing Monday, while 598 participated, Superintendent Victor Valeski said.” (Also from NorthJersey.com, “Superintendent John Mucciolo said that out of the students who were eligible for testing, only 12 students had opted out.”)
  • “Newark Public Schools did not have a districtwide figure Monday, but only seven students out of 700 at Luis Munoz Marin Middle School refused the tests, spokesperson Brittany Parmley said.”
Also NJ.com:
  • In Hamilton, one of N.J.’s larger districts, Acting Superintendent Steve Bollar said, “To date, there have been 130 refusals districtwide. When you compare it to the number of students in our district who are testing, that's really small. To me, that's a home run.”
From The Press of Atlantic City:
  • “Lower Cape May Regional reported an influx of refusals on Monday in addition to about two dozen already received.”
Also, “ The Press of Atlantic City contacted all districts in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties Friday requesting the number of students whose parents had submitted refusal letters.”
  • “Twenty-three districts responded, reporting about 250 refusals. In some districts, there may be enough refusals for the school or district to fall below the 95 percent participation rate required by law.”
  • “Locally, Cape May City and Cape May Technical High School reported no refusals.”
  • “Wildwood, Woodbine and Atlantic City each had one.”
  • “Commercial Township has two children from the same family.”
  • “Port Republic and Lawrence Township each have three.”
  • “West Cape May has four, Upper Deerfield Township has five and Millville has six.”
  • “Lawrence Township Superintendent Shelley Magan said three of 313 students have refused, but the rest are ready.”
  • “Stafford and Little Egg Harbor townships each reported 40 refusals.”
  • “Hammonton, Lower Township and Lower Cape May Regional each reported about 20 refusals.”
  • “Pinelands Regional had 17, and Mainland Regional High School had 10.”
  • “Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Christopher Kobik said most refusals just recently came in. He recommends students take the tests. ‘There is no need to fear this,’ he said. ‘It is a more challenging, rigorous test that we can use to help better prepare students for their future.’”
In North Jersey:
  • Tenafly Schools reported that “about 20 have said no. In Bergenfield, at least four students won’t sit for the exams that start in most districts today.”
    Teachers and parents opposed to the tests have been urging a boycott for months, but superintendents are only now beginning to see how many students won’t take part. Conversations over the last few days with school administrators throughout Bergen and Passaic counties reveal that the number of students refusing to participate is small, compared with those who will be testing.
From South Jersey:
  • “In Washington Township, 109 students had opted out of testing by Monday, said district spokeswoman Jan Giel. That represents roughly 2 percent of the 5,400 students to be tested there.”
  • “In Haddon Township, parents of about 130 students asked that their children be excluded from PARCC testing, Superintendent Nancy Ward told the school board at a Feb. 19 meeting.”
  • “In Livingston, Essex County, district officials predicted about 1,100 of 4,100 students would skip the test.”
Asbury Park Press reports:
  • “Brick Township testing coordinator Susan McNamara said that 29 out of a possible 677 third graders and 79 of 714 sixth graders refused the PARCC on Tuesday.”
  • “At Freehold Learning Center, 241 of the 242 kids took the PARCC with one child refusing.”
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks and NJ Spotlight. An earlier version of this post appeared on her own blog, NJ Left Behind. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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