Opt-Out Rate For PARCC Testing Triples in New Brunswick

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—66 students in the New Brunswick public school district opted out of the controversial PARCC standardized testing in May, according to New Brunswick Superintendent Richard Kaplan. 

The May opt-out rate is more than three times higher than the 19 students who opted out of PARCC testing when it was first administered in March. 

PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), is a multi-state consortium which administers its standardized testing to students in grades 3-11 in more than 10 states. 

The opt-out rates in March reflected a general trend where affluent districts such as Montclair and Livingston saw notably higher opt-out rates than districts such as New Brunswick and Hackensack. 

Kaplan declined to comment on students opting out of PARCC testing, beyond recommending that students should not opt out. 

With some school districts having notably high opt-out rates, public attention has shifted to whether federal and state funding to those districts could be withheld or lowered.

"We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure that we have comfort level moving forward that we are going to hit that 95%," NJ State Education Commissioner David Hespe said at an Assembly Budget Committee hearing in April.

However, a bill in the State Legislature would prohibit state funding being withheld from districts based on their participation from PARCC testing.

The General Assembly's version, A-4485, cleared the Assembly Education Committee on June 4 by an 8-0 vote, while the Senate version, S-2881, passed the Senate Education Committee by a 5-0 vote.

Governor Chris Christie announced on Thursday last week at an invite-only policy speech at Burlington County College that he would pull New Jersey from the federal Common Core standards.

In his speech and preceding press release, Christie simultaneous took stances both in support of and in opposition to  federal education standards. 

"It's now been fire years since Common Core was adopted. And the truth is that it's simply not working," Governor Christie said, adding that the education of New Jersey students should not be decided by policymakers and legislators "200 miles away on the banks of the Potomac River." 

Christie then discussed his support of PARCC testing later in the same speech, stating that "federal law requires it and because it is the only way to objectively judge our progress." 

"I will not permit New Jersey to risk losing vital federal education funds because some would prefer to let the perfect get in the way of the good," Christie said. 

“Today, I’ve directed the Commissioner of Education to begin immediately to assemble a group of parents and educators to consider developing New Jersey educational standards: New Jersey College and Career Readiness Standards,” the Governor added.

To many, his position on the Common Core has changed, or "flip-flopped," from as recently as two years ago, where Christie was largely supportive of the standards.

Some had suggested that Christie's move was part of his pursuit of the Republican nomination for President. 

Though the claims of the Governor were slightly off, as the Common Core is not necessarily a federal standard. Instead, they were a collaboration of business leaders and individual states, including New Jersey. 

Others had pointed to the fact that Christie had only just appointed a task force last year to examine PARCC testing, a task force that had yet to release its report.   

"We haven't released our report, we don't know what PARCC has done," said Nicole Moore, a Principal and member of the PARCC task force, told NJ Spotlight. "We are still doing our work, and to say otherwise is premature. And this puts us in a tricky situation."

"I have no idea what we'll do, that's the honest truth," Mark Biedron, President of the NJ Board of Education, told NJ Spotlight. "But it can't be business as usual, we need to move on this." 

Voices of outright opposition, such as the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President, have said that Christie was "completely illogical" for "calling for the rejection of the Common Core state standards while insisting on a continuation of the controversial PARCC assessments that are tied directly to those standards." 

“I like the approach that he will bring in educators and make it New Jersey, that is all great and I hope NJEA is involved in that,” he said. “But to continue with the PARCC test, that does not make any sense at all. The PARCC test is completely aligned to the Common Core.”

“What’s the process to all this, and will people have sufficient time to adapt?”