UNION COUNTY — Backlash against the upcoming PARCC testing continues to fester in Union County and throughout the state. Parents who are set against the testing, though, have done their homework and are fully prepared to wage a battle to ensure their rights are not violated.
The question of whether parents can actually opt out of PARCC testing is still up in the air. While many parents and educators maintain it is their civil right to do what they want in regard to their children’s education, the N.J. Department of Education has taken an equally strong stance that opting out is not on the table.
In mid-November, David Hespe, acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, strongly suggested that federal regulations require 95 percent of students take the PARCC exams or school districts could potentially lose some “undefined funding.
Hespe also noted the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, along with other resolutions the state board passed this year, mandated that all students have to take state assessment testing. This includes PARCC, he added.
But Hespe also issued one final warning to parents about the upcoming testing.
“A good parallel is compulsory attendance,” the acting commissioner said, adding “Parents don’t have the option, students are supposed to go to school. The same with opting out, they don’t have that option.”
Nevertheless, Erica Kirschner DuBois, a Union resident and Jersey City teacher, started the Facebook site called “United Opt Out Union County,” which has generated considerable postings from parents who are against PARCC testing. This site followed a national United Opt Out effort that has generated a strong following.
On the local site are a number of articles that have been authored by educators and parents in the state and across the country, all of whom have backed up their concerns with data.
According to these articles, parents of students under 13 have the right to review and refuse any online testing that a child is using in school, including programs where a child has to enter the data. This, they said, is based on a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, which allows parents to control what information is collected online from their children age 12 and under.
“This has serious implications for the opt out movement,” said one educator, mentioning there are other laws parents can use to keep their children from taking these tests.
There were also articles providing forms for parents to use so their children do not have to take the PARCC tests. The forms instruct school districts to contact vendors or testing service providers on their behalf.
Bob Shepard, a veteran designer of curricula and textbooks, has come out strongly against PARCC testing, explaining why he believes these computer-based tests are “meaningless and useless.”
Shepard backed up this claim with multiple examples, including that much of the Common Core Curriculum and Career Ready Assessment Program needs to be scrapped.
As an example, he explained that the standards being tested cover “almost no world knowledge.”
“Imagine a test on biology that left out almost all world knowledge about biology and covered only biology ‘skills,’” he said, adding this has been the problem with all standardized tests.
Shepard also pointed out that PARCC defines skills “so vaguely and so generally that they cannot be validly operationalized for testing purposes.”
Shepard noted that nothing students do on these exams “even remotely resembles real reading and writing as it is done in the real world.” He also mentioned the test formats are “inappropriate,” because the questions are “tricky and convoluted.”
“So the test questions end up being extraordinarily complex and confusing and tricky, all because the ‘experts’ who designed these tests didn’t understand the most basic stuff about creating assessments,” he said.
Shepard also feels PARCC tests have an “enormous incurred cost” that steals valuable instructional time from students.
“Administrators at many schools now report that they spend as much as a third of the school year preparing students to take these tests,” he said, but the cost in dollars for school districts had yet to be revealed.
“The U.S. has spent $1.7 billion on state standardized testing alone. The PARCC contract by itself is worth over a billion dollars to Pearson in the first three years and no one, to my knowledge, has accurately estimated the cost of the computer upgrades that will be necessary for online testing of every child,” he explained, predicting that the cost could “probably run $50 to $60 billion.”
“This is money that could be spent on stuff that matters – on making sure that poor kids have eye exams and warm clothes and food in their bellies, on making sure that libraries are open and that schools have nurses on duty to keep kids from dying,” Shepard said, adding “how many dead kids is all this testing worth, given that it is of no instructional value?”
Pearson, the world’s largest testing company and the one that won the contract to give the PARCC testing, also has come under fire.
In June, Fox News reported that Pearson could reap “billions of dollars” from Common Core testing. The contract has been stalled by a New Mexico judge after a rival company complained the bidding process was set up to ensure Pearson won.
Pearson made national news in January 2013 when it was discovered that they tried to recruit people to score essays on state standardized tests through ads on Craigslist in Texas.
While controversy continues about the testing company, parents and teachers against PARCC have been working behind the scenes locally and nationally to get the word out about United Opt Out National. All of them point to PARCC testing as a liability that becomes more pronounced because of probable “ethics and civil rights violations.”
United Opt Out co-founder and Colorado educator Peggy Robertson, in a recent statement, urged teachers unions to stand up publicly to proclaim their support for teachers nationwide as they refuse to administer assessments “which harm children.”
While much has been written about PARCC testing affecting students less than 13-years-old, many members of Union County Opt Out have expressed on the Facebook page that they have serious concerns about PARCC’s high school exams because they believe this testing will significantly exceed federal regulations.
While federal mandates require annual math and language arts tests in grades 3 through 8, such testing is only required once in grades 9 through 12.
“Adding six computer-based tests with multiple parts to the high school curriculum will have significant cost impacts that are only beginning to come into view,” said one Union County parent.
At issue is the fact that the high-stakes battle is undermining one of President Barack Obama’s initiatives, the testing of students across the country on a common set of exams in math, reading and writing, which is backed by $370 million in federal funds.
Planning for the Common Core testing, which turned out to be PARCC, began in 2010 when the U.S. Department of Education granted $186 million to states willing to work together to develop high-tech exams that would be far more challenging than the typical multiple choice tests.
Adding to the problem is the fact PARCC testing will take eight hours for an average third grade student and nearly 10 hours for high school students. There also are plans to develop PARCC tests for kindergarteners, and first- and second-graders, instead of starting with third grade, as is typical now.
Since many states, including New Jersey, have to spend heavily on computers and broadband so schools can deliver the exams as planned, and the tests cost more than many states currently spend, there has been considerable concern over the impact on taxpayers.
Right now school districts pay about $19 to $24 a student for testing, but that cost could jump to $33 per student for paper and pencil versions of PARCC. An estimate for the computerized version has yet to be established for each school district.