New Jersey districts and charter schools are gearing up for the second year of PARCC testing, which will take place between April 4th and May 20th.
Last spring, families and guardians of approximately 120,000 New Jersey students (14% of all eligible test takers) refused to allow their children to take the PARCC tests, resulting in New Jersey having the second largest high-stakes standardized test refusal rate in the country. In addition to concerns for their own children, parents and guardians refused PARCC because of its impact on public schools, including:
- narrowing the curriculum
- consuming instructional time
- failing to improve educational outcomes
- increasing costs to districts for infrastructure to administer the tests
- encouraging teaching to the tests
Parents and guardians also objected to PARCC's lack of quality or validity, to the forced imposition of ever-greater amounts of high-stakes standardized testing, and to the increased use of such tests to punish students, teachers and public schools.(1)
In response to these very high PARCC refusal rates, the New Jersey Department of Education is requiring districts and charter schools whose spring 2015 PARCC participation rates were below 95% of eligible test takers to create a corrective action detailing how they will increase participation rates for this spring's PARCC. Districts must have their Boards of Education approve their corrective action plans. The plans must be submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education by March 4th, 2016.(2)
Some districts' corrective action plans consist of distributing the form letter provided by the New Jersey Department of Education to parents.(3) Other districts and charter schools, however, have adopted punitive measures to discourage families from refusing or have disseminated misinformation to convince families that they do not have the option to refuse.
We believe the decision to refuse high-stakes standardized tests should be make on the basis of accurate information. That is why we are providing the following Q and A, which is also available on our website: http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/refusing-parcc-test/
Please email us at [email protected] if you have any questions.
1. Do parents have the right to opt their children out of the PARCC tests?
New Jersey does not have an "opt out" provision, but, as New Jersey State Board of Education President Mark Biedron pointed out at the January 7, 2015 State Board of Education meeting, "nobody can force a child" to take a test.(4)
On September 9, 2015, NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe sent a memo to school districts on how to accommodate students whose families or guardians refuse PARCC. He said "school districts should be prepared in the event that students choose not to participate in the assessment program and adopt policies and procedures for the appropriate supervision and engagement of these students during administration of the assessment. The specific policies adopted by school districts regarding students not participating in the assessment program are entirely within the school district's discretion, in consideration of each district's school environment and available staffing and resources and recognizing that a statewide rule could not take into account these local circumstances. However, in developing these policies, districts should be mindful of ensuring appropriate student supervision and creating alternative options for student activity during the test period, so long as the testing environment is not disrupted and, in this regard, a sit and stare policy should be avoided."(5)
Districts and charter schools may not require that students who refuse the PARCC tests miss school on the days that their classmates are taking PARCC.
Last spring, more than 230 districts allowed students whose families refused the tests to read or take part in an alternative activity. Please email [email protected] to let us know how your district or charter schools is handling test refusals this spring.
2. How will the 2016 PARCC test results be used?
Starting with the class of 2016, PARCC may be used as one of the ways that students may meet New Jersey's graduation testing requirement. Please see question 3 for additional information and a list of all the options for meeting the graduation testing requirement.
Individual districts also may use PARCC scores along with other measures to determine whether students qualify for special services or are admitted into accelerated classes or programs. This is not an appropriate use of PARCC as it has not been validated as accurate, unbiased or usable for this purpose. No standardized test can be validated until it has been administered in a consistent manner for a number of years. The format and timing of PARCC has been changed since the Spring 2015 administration. The PARCC tests given this spring will be an entirely different format, further delaying the ability to validate PARCC as a credible measure of student knowledge or predictor of students' future academic success.
School districts should use multiple measures to determine a student's need for special services and other placements. If your district or charter school is relying entirely or overwhelmingly on PARCC scores for student placements, let your district Board of Education or charter school Board of Trustees know that this is inappropriate and ask them to require school personnel to include other measures.
Even the New Jersey Department of Education, a strong supporter of PARCC, suggests that districts not use PARCC "as the only factor for determining class placements, such as in a gifted program."(6)
Ask your superintendent or head of school how your district or charter school plans to use the PARCC scores.
For some teachers, PARCC scores will be used to determine 10% of their overall ratings for the 2015-2016 school year.
For schools, the 2016 PARCC results will be used in creating performance reports that are issued for each school by the New Jersey Department of Education.
3. Is passing the PARCC tests a graduation requirement in New Jersey?
Passing the PARCC tests is NOT a requirement for students graduating in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Those students may use PARCC or a number of other options to meet the state graduation requirements, including the ACT, SAT, PSAT, Accuplacer and ASVAB-AFQT tests, or a student portfolio prepared by school districts or charter schools to document student mastery of the state proficiency standards in math and language arts. Students in those graduating classes do not have to take and fail the PARCC test before being eligible to use those alternative means of meeting their graduation requirement.(7)
Passing the PARCC tests is also NOT a requirement for the class of 2020. In January 2016, the New Jersey Department of Education proposed new regulations that would require students in the class of 2020 to take (but not pass) any PARCC exams for which they are eligible in the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years, before they can use any of the other graduation options. These regulations have not been approved by the New Jersey State Board of Education and, even if the Board eventually approves them, they will not apply to the 2015-16 academic year.
For the class of 2021 and beyond, the NJ Department of Education is proposing regulations that would require proficiency on the PARCC ELA10 and Algebra1 exams as a graduation requirement. The portfolio appeal process would be the only other option that these classes would have for meeting their state graduation requirements as the substitute assessments would no longer be accepted. These regulations also have not been approved by the New Jersey State Board of Education.
Public education advocates have challenged the Department's graduation proposals for failing to follow state laws governing changes in graduation policy, failing to provide adequate notice to students and families, and for their potential negative impact on high needs students and districts. The case is currently pending in Court.
4. Could my child be required to "sit & stare" while her/his peers are taking the PARCC tests?
Districts and charter schools have some discretion as to how to treat students whose families refuse. Very few districts or charter schools are choosing to force children to "sit & stare" – to sit in the room with their test-taking classmates and do nothing.
On September 9, 2015, NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe sent a memo to school districts on how to accommodate students who refuse PARCC. He said "school districts should be prepared in the event that students choose not to participate in the assessment program and adopt policies and procedures for the appropriate supervision and engagement of those students during administration of the assessment ... a sit and stare policy should be avoided."(8)
Please email us [email protected] if your district or charter school is planning to force students whose families refused PARCC to "sit & stare."
5. If I refuse the PARCC tests for my child, will her/his school lose funding?
No, your child's school will not lose state or federal funding because you refuse PARCC.
New Jersey state aid cannot be withheld from school districts because parents refused PARCC, as a result of legislation (S2881/A4485) that Governor Christie signed into law on November 9, 2015.(9)
There also is no federal law that requires penalties on schools if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests.
The US Department of Education has threatened to withhold a small amount of state administrative funding if states did not take action to reduce high stakes test refusal rates. However, as the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) points out, that funding would not impact individual schools.(10)
FairTest further notes that the new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind (Every Student Succeeds Act) "specifically authorizes states to allow parents to opt their children out of exams."
Even under the old, more punitive No Child Left Behind law, the US Department of Education has not withheld funding in response to high numbers of parental test refusals. "When last spring's successful opt out campaign left few New York State school districts with 95% participation, the US DOE acknowledged it had no plans to penalize districts or schools by withholding funds."
FairTest "is not aware of a single state, school, or district that was penalized by the federal government for failing to test enough of its students. To the contrary, seven states (California, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Oregon) have laws specifically allowing parents to opt their children out of high stakes standardized tests. Therefore, parents and educators should not fear that the federal government will financially penalize their schools if many students boycott standardized tests."
6. May a district or charter school set deadlines for parents to turn in refusal forms or force parents to attend in-person meetings or to sign special forms in order to refuse PARCC?
Refusing PARCC is an exercise of parental or guardian rights. Parents and guardians do not need permission from their child's district or charter school to refuse PARCC or other standardized tests.
When parents and guardians refuse, they should notify their child's district or charter school that the child will not be taking PARCC. Such notifications should be done via letters sent to the school Principal and the district Superintendent or Head of charter school. For younger students, copies of the refusal letter also should be sent to the child's classroom teacher.
You can find examples of refusal letters in English http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/save/corefiles/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Notice-of-PARCC-Assessment-Refusal-New-Jersey.pdf and Spanish http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/save/corefiles/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/PARCC-Refusual-Letter-_Spanish.pdf, as well as additional resources, on our website http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/refusing-parcc-test/.
Districts and charter schools may request that parents submit refusal letters by a certain deadline to enable them to make appropriate accommodations for students not taking the test. However, failure to submit a refusal form within that time frame does NOT obligate the student to take the test. Parents and guardians may refuse PARCC until the testing is completed.
Districts and charter schools also might ask parents or guardians to attend meetings, speak with school staff, or sign specific forms in order to refuse PARCC. Again, parents and guardians may choose not to participate in any of these steps and instead may submit their own refusal letter to the district or charter school.
We encourage parents to use their judgements and to work with their districts and charter schools to the degree that they believe is reasonable.
If parents do not wish to follow the specific refusal guidelines set forth by their children's districts or charter schools, they should speak with school staff to confirm that their children will be treated humanely. Group actions by parents - such as jointly attending and speaking at Board of Education meetings - have been very effective at ensuring humane treatment.
Please email us at [email protected] if your district refuses to provide humane accommodations for PARCC refusals.
7. Do students who refuse to take the PARCC tests hurt their teachers?
Students who refuse to take the PARCC tests could have an impact on teachers in two ways.
1) If enough students refuse the PARCC tests, they could make it impossible for the state of New Jersey to evaluate their teachers on the unscientific and random basis of student standardized test scores.
Because refusing to take the PARCC tests reduces the number of test scores available for the new teacher evaluation system, if enough families refuse the PARCC tests, a teacher could be ineligible to be evaluated on the basis of PARCC standardized test scores.
For Student Growth Percentiles to apply, a teacher must have at least 20 separate students who take the PARCC, and who are enrolled for at least 70% of the time; and that teacher must teach at least 60% of the time, prior to the state test. Presumably if the students refusing to take PARCC reduce a teacher's eligible student population below 20, there would be no PARCC-based rating for that teacher. This 20-student threshold applies to a teacher's total teaching roster, not just individual classes, so may be easier to reach for teachers in elementary grades.(11)
2) Depending upon the number of students who refuse to take the PARCC tests and on how they would have scored on the PARCC tests, this could have a modest impact on the state's complicated "Student Growth Percentile" metric for a particular teacher. That impact could either raise or lower a teacher's score, depending on which students are not taking the test.
The Student Growth Percentile (SGP) is an average of how scores for a particular group of students change from year to year. It includes only math and language arts teachers in grades 4-8. For 2015-2016, SGP is supposed to count for 10% of a teacher's overall evaluation. Most researchers have found test-based teacher evaluation unreliable for many reasons unrelated to whether some students refuse the test.
8. Are high-stakes standardized tests such as PARCC helpful in identifying whether students are "college ready?"
Standardized tests are not a good measure of college readiness. A recent large scale study confirmed the findings of prior research that found high school transcripts predict college success much more accurately than do standardized tests.(12)
Standardized tests primarily measure the income and educational background of students' families, with students from wealthier families and students whose parents have completed college and beyond, on average, receiving significantly higher scores on such tests than students from lower-income families. Average SAT scores, for example, show an almost 400 point difference between a student whose family earns under $20,000 and one whose family earns more than $200,000 a year.(13)
"Colleges also are realizing that standardized test scores are not the best indicator of who needs remedial support. Jerry Kornbluth, the Dean of Professional Studies at Nassau Community College, recently told The Nassau County Curriculum directors that his college suspects it has over-remediated in the past. This excellent community college is now exploring a multiple measures approach which will include high school GPA, some test scores, a student interview and extracurricular activities. They found that many students with SAT scores as low as 470 did just fine, and who needs remediation is far more complex than a score could show."(14)
A group of elite universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown, recently came together to try and revise their admission process to eliminate the gaming and bias towards wealthy students that standardized tests promote and to take some of the unnecessary stress off of students. One of their top recommendations was for universities to make standardized tests optional for admissions, as more than 850 Colleges and Universities have already done.(15)
9. What accommodations for PARCC may be made for students with Individual Education Plans?
A student's Child Study Team should make recommendations and set forth goals, objectives, and accommodations, including what might be needed for taking classroom and standardized tests. The Child Study Team may indicate that it is not educationally appropriate for a student to take a grade level standardized test such as PARCC because the test will result in abusive levels of anxiety for the child. As a result, an alternative form of assessment will be used.
Students with IEPs also may be offered alternative forms of assessment to meet their graduation requirements, including portfolios, Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM), and exemption from testing. Students do not have to take PARCC or another standardized test before being "eligible" for an alternative. They are already eligible because of their disability.
It is the duty of the Child Study Team to make the appropriate determination and to include that in the student's Individual Educational Plans.
The US Department of Education has set a 2% cap for exemptions to PARCC. However, that cap applies at the state level, not at the level of individual schools districts or charter schools.
(12) http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/study-finds-high-sat-act-scores-might-not-spell-success/ and http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED502858.pdf