UNION COUNTY, NJ — Although it may be the 11th hour before PARCC testing begins in March, the New Jersey Assembly voted Monday to stop educators from using the new standardized tests to determine student placement for three years.
The bill focuses primarily on addressing parents and educators concerns about the Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Career testing, barring the state education department from using test results for three years in determining student placement for gifted and advanced placement. The three years would begin in the 2015-2016 school year, but the bill has a long way to go before getting the stamp of approval from the governor.
In fact, the bill is now headed to the senate education committee where it has to pass muster before going for a full vote before this arm of the legislature. If the bill makes it that far and is approved, Gov. Chris Christie has 45 days to consider the measure before signing or vetoing it.
According to Laura Detjen, a Union resident, teacher in Jersey City and activist with a group called United Opt Out Union County, another part of the bill package working its way through the legislature will protect students from “sit and stare” and other punitive measures imposed when families refuse the testing.
Meanwhile, United Opt Out Union County continues to rally support to their side. One member, Paige Vaccaro, wrote an open letter to New Jersey State Commissioner of Education David Hespe and did not mince words about how she felt after attending a Camden PARCC public hearing where Hespe left early.
“The state of New Jersey is like the land of OZ, the curtain has been pulled back to reveal that our elected and appointed politicians are not the wizards they claim to be,” she said, adding that the PARCC test and the “ill-conceived reforms that led to it are not the heart, brain and courage that parents, teachers and taxpayers asked for.”
The resident felt that since Hespe failed to respond to questions the public has hammered at him for months, he should give his job to her.
“I do not want you to resign, I want you to give your job to me,” Vaccaro said, adding she is a veteran teacher of 12 years who was driven to resign “due to the current state of education.”
Vaccaro said she was willing to sacrifice her time with her four children under the age of seven to serve the people of New Jersey.
“I will hold as many public hearings as I possibly can and look people in the eyes when I speak. I will take their words and emotions to heart and honestly consider real solutions to addressing problems. I won’t cater to special interests, and I wont leave early unless one of my children is sick,” said the mother of four, admitting she was furious that Hespe left the meeting in Camden during a break without a word to those present. Vaccaro, who spoke at that meeting, said it’s time people stood up to Hespe.
“We need leaders who will listen to the public they serve,” she said, adding that the time has come for someone who knows and lives public education to take the reins.
Vaccaro also has been outspoken about teachers not coming forward to speak publicly against PARCC testing.
“I’m not saying every teacher should outright refuse to give the PARCC test or any test that they don’t believe in, though that would be nice. But I am saying that more teachers need to find their voices and enter into the public debate without fear,” said Vaccaro.
“America, the home of the free and home of the brave needs to take a long hard look at why so few teachers are willing to openly join an intellectual discussion about the validity of Common Core and the testing regimen that came with it,” said Vaccaro, adding “we need to hear from them what is going on behind the classroom walls, not from politicians.”
“And if they are truly afraid to speak, then we have another bigger problem that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Parents continue to come forward to LocalSource with their own stories of not being able to refuse the testing.
Although the state allows a parent to send a letter to the principal of their child’s school to refuse the testing, Elizabeth resident Christina Moreira found it was not that simple.
Moreira said she sent a letter of refusal for her 4th-grade daughter and immediately received a response from the principal saying she could not “opt out.”
While the state has explained there is no rule for “opting out” of the test, a parent can refuse to let their child take the PARCC testing, which begins next month. Despite this, the Elizabeth resident hit a wall when trying to explain this to school personnel.
“I informed the school that I was not opting out, I was refusing, and after several conversations, I was told my child would have to be the one refusing on the day of the exam to take the test,” she said, adding she was told that if her child refused to take the test, she would be in “misconduct” and taken to another room where work would be provided.
“While I’m glad they are not making her ‘sit and stare,’ or saying she must stay home like some districts, I’m dumbfounded that they would require that my child refuse the test,” said Moreira, explaining her daughter is a minor and should not be put in that position.
“She should not have to be in ‘misconduct’ because Pearson, the testing company, has a code for non-test takers,” the mother said.
Moreira said because she was not satisfied with what took place, she asked the superintendent at a school-sponsored PARCC workshop why she would not put a policy in writing and was told the superintendent “would not go against her commissioner.”
“She meant what Hespe said about every district applying its own policies,” said the Elizabeth resident, pointing out that the commissioner told school districts in a letter that if a student comes in and is disruptive, a school should have a disciplinary policy.
“My worry is that parents received a letter before the winter break stating ‘state law and regulations require all students to take the state assessments.’ The wording leads parents to believe that they have no other option,” she said, pointing out that most parents believe the PARCC testing counts as a grade for advancement to the next grade level or will in someway impact their report card.
“This could not be further from the truth,” Moreira said,” explaining that she went before the school board in January “which was a circus to say the least.”
United Opt Out Union County continues to stress that school districts have to adopt a policy that accommodates parent and student wishes with an alternate venue or activities while the test is ongoing.
So far more than 109 school districts in the state have adopted such a policy, according to Save Our Schools New Jersey, and that number is growing every day.
Many school districts have balked at adopting such a policy, and in Union County, Union is the only school district to do so to date. This week news surfaced that Summit has provisions for a student refusing to take the test, but nothing was adopted by the school board.
While most school districts have agreed there is no “official’ opt out policy statutorily in place, the right of refusal is another issue. Attorneys working on behalf of those against PARCC argued that not allowing parents to refuse the testing is a direct violation of their First Amendment rights under the doctrine of compelled speech.