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Assembly Democratic Legislative Package to Give Parents Choice to Opt Out of PARCC, Study Effectiveness of Controversial Test Clears Assembly Panel

Sponsored by Diegnan, Jasey, Caputo, Benson, Eustace, Vainieri Huttle, Gusciora, Pinkin, McKeon, Andrzejczak & Johnson

An Assembly panel on Thursday released a two-bill legislative package to tackle the growing concern over the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment being administered to New Jersey students in grades 3-11.

The first bill (A-4165), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick Diegnan, Mila Jasey, Ralph Caputo, Dan Benson, Tim Eustace, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Reed Gusciora, Nancy Pinkin, John McKeon and Bob Andrzejczak, would allow a parent or guardian to exclude a student from taking the PARCC. The second bill (A-4268), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Diegnan and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, would establish a task force to study the effectiveness and implementation of the PARCC.

“The debate over the PARCC assessment and whether or not it will help or hurt students has only grown more intense,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “With so many lingering questions about its effectiveness and worry about the impact on students, it is only fair that we give parents the option to say no to the test on behalf of their children until we can answer their questions and ease their fears.”

Under the opt-out bill (A-4165), a student’s parent or guardian would have 14 days before the test is given to notify the school district or charter school, in writing, that the student will not be taking the test. Schools must alert parents of upcoming PARCC assessments by no later than Sept. 30.

Under the bill, a school district or charter school would be required to provide educationally appropriate alternative activities for students not taking the test. Any such alternative activity cannot occur in the same room where the test is being administered. Nothing in the bill is to be construed to exempt a student from any high school graduation requirement established under current law.

“Tests help measure student learning, but the case made against the PARCC has many parents calling foul,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “This can’t be an easy decision for parents to make, but until we can disprove the claims against the PARCC, they should have the opportunity to say no.”

The study conducted by the task force (A-4268) must include a description of actions taken by the state to date to support the administration of the PARCC tests, and a timeline for future actions to be taken; an estimate of the full cost for school districts to administer the PARCC tests; an analysis of districts’ technological readiness to administer the tests; the use of students’ results on the tests; and matters related to the use and mining of confidential student and family data. The task force would have to issue its final report no later six months after it organizes. Prior to issuing its final report, the task force would be required to conduct at least four public hearings to gather information.

“No parent wants their child to take a test that is flawed, especially when it will be used for advanced placement and graduation,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “Parents are the best advocates for their children. Until we can answer some of those persisting questions about what PARCC will and will not do, parents should be able to have their children abstain from the test.”

“If there is one good thing about the PARCC debate is the fervent advocacy displayed by parents,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Parents have spoken and we have listened. This task force can help clear up some of the questions many parents have raised in their arguments against the PARCC.”

In addition to notifying parents about upcoming test dates, school districts and charter schools would be required under the opt-out bill (A-4165) to inform parents about the subject area of the test and the grade levels covered by the test, and the manner in which the test results will be used.

“Many worry about basing academic judgments on a test that is unproven,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “This has created a lot of distress among parents concerned about the possible fallout. Not every parent will want their child to opt-out of the test, but those who do should have that option.”

“The fact that parents would say no to a test that is supposed to assess student proficiency shows just how much distrust there is in the PARCC as an effective measuring tool,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Until we can prove otherwise, parents should have the right to refuse the test.”

“Many say the test is unnecessarily confusing. This is especially worrisome for parents of ESL students and students with special needs, who worry the test will set their children up for failure,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “They should have a say in whether the test is suitable for their children.”

“The criticism made against PARCC is not just coming from parents, but educators who are skeptical of its effectiveness,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Parents who are worried about a test that even educators find troublesome should be allowed to refuse the test for their children.”

“PARCC is a computerized test. Some students don’t have computers at home and may be less technologically savvy. That alone can hurt a student, especially in urban areas” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Until we know that students won’t be unfairly disadvantaged, parents should have the right to opt-out.”

“Testing can show us how well students are doing in the classroom, but with so much doubt about the PARCC’s ability to do this, we should allow parents who are not comfortable with the test to allow their children to sit it out until we know for sure that it works,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex)

“We want students to be eager to learn, not demoralized by a test that by many accounts is inadequate,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “This is a real concern for some parents. This bill gives those parents a choice. Given the level of mistrust against the PARCC, it is the right thing to do.”

The bills were released by the Assembly Education Committee.