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3-3-15 More on Statewide Initiation of PARCC Testing

Press of Atlantic City - As PARCC testing begins, refusals mount in some districts, remain flat in others

Posted: Sunday, March 1, 2015 6:47 pm

By DIANE D’AMICO, Education Writer

Public schools throughout New Jersey will begin giving the new state PARCC test Monday.

A pre-test campaign by groups opposed to the testing has generated a last-minute flurry of parents in South Jersey refusing to have their child take the new tests, although actual refusal numbers remained small Friday.

“Interest has been exploding,” said Melissa Tomlinson of BATS, or the Badass Teachers Association, which supports less testing.

Supporters of the test said they have been vilified for trying to give parents information.

It has been hard for us,” said Rose Acerra, president-elect of the N.J. Parent Teacher Association, which has been working on an initiative called Best Foot Forward. “Our stance is to educate parents on how to prepare for the test. But anyone who supports us, or even thanks us, gets attacked on social media.”

Statewide, about 900,000 students are scheduled to take the tests. Education Commissioner David Hespe has said that traditionally about 1 percent of students turn in blank test booklets. Last year, about 1,000 students left their tests blank.

The Press of Atlantic City contacted all districts in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties Friday requesting the number of students whose parents had submitted refusal letters. Twenty-three districts responded, reporting about 250 refusals.

In some districts, there may be enough refusals for the school or district to fall below the 95 percent participation rate required by law. While that is a concern, the penalties are somewhat uncertain.

The U.S. Department of Education has notified states that Title I funds for disadvantaged children could be in jeopardy but has not said they would be cut.

Northfield Superintendent Robert Garguilo saidFriday that the district had fallen below 95 percent, and refusals were still coming in.

Some districts asked parents to submit refusal letters by Friday so they could make arrangements for those students during the tests. If refusals come in on the day of the test, students are more likely to be required to remain in the testing room, a situation opponents have called “inhumane.”

Upper Township provided a form for parents to fill out, which was picked up by social media sites. Some praised the district for providing a form. Others criticized its content.

Superintendent Vincent Palmieri said the form contained the same information that was included in a two-hour presentation he hosted for parents. About 15 parents have submitted refusals, he said Friday.

“Our staff and students are very prepared for PARCC,” Palmieri wrote in an email, “and byMonday, all families that submitted refusal forms will have been directly contacted by me to reassure them that their children will be well taken care of.”

Stafford and Little Egg Harbor townships each reported 40 refusals. Hammonton, Lower Township and Lower Cape May Regional each reported about 20 refusals. Pinelands Regional had 17, and Mainland Regional High School had 10.

Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Christopher Kobik said most refusals just recently came in. He recommends students take the tests.

“There is no need to fear this,” he said. “It is a more challenging, rigorous test that we can use to help better prepare students for their future.”

Egg Harbor Township parents Bob and Shae Dailyda hosted a meeting on PARCC at the local library Thursday night attended by about 15 people, including Tomlinson, some parents and a few area teachers who said they do not feel prepared to give the tests.

“We are losing control at the local level,” Shae Dailyda said.

Parent Michelle Thomas, of Buena Vista Township, said in a phone call that she is not opposed to standardized tests but does not believe the PARCC tests reflect what students have learned.

“Teachers haven’t had enough time to really teach the Common Core Standards, but they’re already testing,” she said. She said the refusal process has been a good civics lesson for her daughter, a high school sophomore.

School officials said there are also a lot of misconceptions and misinformation that are scaring parents. Folsom Superintendent Evelyn Browne said parents believe the eighth-grade PARCC will impact student placement in high school courses next year, when districts won’t even get the results of the first round of testing until November. She said she only has one refusal but has talked to several parents.

A bill that has passed the state Assembly and could be up for a vote in the Senate this week would prohibit the test results from being used for student placement, graduation or teacher evaluations for the first three years.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, a sponsor of the bill, issued a statement Friday saying legislators are not trying to stop testing, just slow down the accountability measures until officials have time to analyze test effectiveness.

In some districts, the PARCC has had little opposition. Locally, Cape May City and Cape May Technical High School reported no refusals. Wildwood, Woodbine and Atlantic City each had one. Commercial Township has two children from the same family. Port Republic and Lawrence Township each have three. West Cape May has four, Upper Deerfield Township has five and Millville has six.

 

Schools in Atlantic City and Pleasantville scheduled pep rallies Friday to encourage students to do their best.

Lawrence Township Superintendent Shelley Magan said three of 313 students have refused, but the rest are ready.

“We are super positive about the test and are as ready as we will ever be,” she wrote in an email. Preparations include teachers wearing “Rock The Test” T-shirts, and gum and mints for students.

Magan got her teachers PARCC survival bags, which include, as she wrote in an email:

P: Pretzel sticks for “sticking with it”

A: Almonds — because they have been a little nutty lately

R: Raisins — thanks for raising the bar!

C: Crunch bar — for crunching the numbers

C: Cookies — for making our kids such smart cookies!

Contact Diane D’Amico:

 

Star Ledger - First day of widespread PARCC testing sees few problems, state says

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on March 02, 2015 at 7:17 PM


In schools like Glen Ridge, Newark and Verona, which began the new the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams Monday, the majority of students who were supposed to take the tests did, school officials said. Some New Jersey students received a one-day reprieve from state testingMonday due to inclement weather, but those who did take the test experienced few technical difficulties on the new computerized exams, superintendents said. 

The outlier among schools that responded to NJ Advance Media was Livingston, which reported that nearly 1,130 of its 4,100 students in grades 3-11 refused the tests. Montclair, where parents have led a vocal movement against the test, did not begin testing Monday because of a delayed opening.

Overall, nearly 100,000 tests were started and the first day of widespread PARCC testing in New Jersey was a "good day," state Education Commissioner David Hespe said. 

"We had some district problems, but not many," Hespe said of technology issues. "Far fewer than we expected to be completely candid with you."

A few students who tested in Cedar Grove accidentally logged off of the test before they were finished and needed teachers to get them back into the PARCC program, Superintendent Michael Fetherman said. 

"It's not really rocket science, you just sort or reboot, just jump start the whole thing," Fetherman said. "It picks up right where they left off."

In Livingston, some laptops were not properly charged so students had to switch to other machines at the beginning of the test, teachers union president Anthony Rosamilia said. Students also struggled with one question that required them to click on the correct answer and drag it across the screen, but they eventually figured out how to complete the question, he said. 

Though Hespe was pleased there were no major technical difficulties reported to himon Monday, he cautioned that more students will be logged on throughout the week when the schools that delayed PARCC begin testing. 

In Somerset County, nearly every school district delayed the start of PARCC because schools had delayed openings due to Sunday's snowstorm.

Green Brook Superintendent Kevin Carroll said PARCC testing could have been done later in the day, but he didn't want to add to the anxiety level of the third and fifth graders scheduled to be tested, he said. 

Dunellen Superintendent Patrick Piegari also decided to delay rather than changeMonday's testing schedule. 

"I didn't want to start creating modifications that would in any way compromise the integrity of the test," he said. "So tomorrow is day one."

About 35 districts had already begun testing at their high schools as early as Feb. 20 under an early testing window, but the remaining districts must test students in grades 3-11 in both math and English between March 2 and March 27. 

Each district has designed its own schedule so students in the same grade will test on different days depending on where they live. 

So far, test refusals, or "opt outs," remain low, according to a sampling of schools on Monday, despite vocal opposition from some parents and teachers

Edison, which has about 13,000 students in the grades being tested has just shy of 100 refusals, Superintendent Richard O'Malley said. 

Glen Ridge reported about 12 students out of 1,275 in grades 3 to 11 refused the tests. In East Brunswick, about 23 fifth graders refused testing Monday, while 598 participated, Superintendent Victor Valeski said. 

Newark Public Schools did not have a districtwide figure Monday, but only seven students out of 700 at Luis Munoz Marin Middle School refused the tests, spokesperson Brittany Parmley said. 

Hespe said he hopes the first day is an indication that parents and student see value in the new tests. 

"I think parents, in the end, understood just how valuable this test is going to be to them and their child to learn so much about their child's educational needs," Hespe said. 

NJ Advance Media reporters Kelly Heyboer and Erin O'Neill contributed to this report

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.

 

NY Times – As Common Core Testing Is Ushered In, Parents and Students Opt Out

By Elizabeth Harris, March 1 2015

Bloomfield NJ -

ON Monday Morning, a few hundred students will file into classrooms at Bloomfield Middle School, open laptops and begin a new standardized test, one mandated across New Jersey and several other states for the first time this year.

About a dozen of their classmates, however, will be elsewhere. They will sit in a nearby art room, where they will read books, do a little drawing and maybe paint.

What they will not do is take the test, because they and their parents have flatly refused.

A new wave of standardized exams, designed to assess whether students are learning in step with the Common Core standards, is sweeping the country, arriving this week in classrooms in several states and entering the cross hairs of various political movements. In New Jersey and elsewhere, the arrival has been marked with well-organized opposition, a spate of television attack ads and a cascade of parental anxiety.

Almost every state has an “opt out” movement. Its true size is hard to gauge, but the protests on Facebook, at school board meetings and in more creative venues — including screenings of anti-testing documentaries — have caught the attention of education officials.

Some school superintendents have bemoaned the exams, while others have warned that they were obligatory. And even parents who share in the antipathy toward the tests are torn by the implications of formally allowing their children to bow out of them.

Colorado’s Board of Education voted in January to allow school districts to skip portions of the state tests, only to be told by the state’s attorney general that it did not have that authority. At a testing information session for parents in Sparta, N.J., according to a local news report, an assistant superintendent repeatedly said: “I’m not here to fight with you. I am here to give information on the mandate.”

The Common Core standards, a set of challenging learning goals designed to better prepare students for college, were developed by a coalition of states. But they became closely tied to President Obama in the public mind as his administration offered money to states that adopted the standards, which conservatives portrayed as a stealth federal takeover of schools.

Tests that gauge how well students are learning the new material have become part of the way many states evaluate their teachers. This makes the tests a target for teachers’ unions, a bulwark of the left.

So the new batch of tests in New Jersey, created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is faced with an unusually diverse list of enemies.

“There are forces united against it on the left side of the aisle and the right of the aisle,” said James Crisfield, a former superintendent of the school district in Millburn, N.J. “We’re also talking about things that are happening to one’s child. You mix that all up into a caldron and it does create some really high levels of interest, high levels of passion — and, shall we say, enthusiasm.”

New Jersey’s teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, is in the midst of a six-week run of advertisements against the partnership, one of which features an emotional parent describing his overworked first grader, and another talking about the elimination of science classes to make way for test preparation. (Testing begins in third grade, but the union contends that schools begin grooming students for it earlier.)

Teachers in the state who instruct classes to be tested will see 10 percent of their evaluation tied to this year’s exams. That is down from the 30 percent the state initially announced. The figure will be re-evaluated before a decision is made on next year’s percentage.

Steve Wollmer, director of communications for the union, said the group does not oppose teacher evaluations. The union was motivated to get involved, he said, because true teaching is being replaced by test preparation. He also said union members were concerned that poor students would be at a disadvantage because the tests will be taken on computers, and those students might have less experience with keyboards.

Some of the loudest objections to the tests, which are also being used by 10 other states and Washington, D.C., are coming from parents.

Several groups in New Jersey, at least one working closely with the teachers’ union, have organized events where parents can take the exam for themselves or watch movies about the dangers of too much standardized testing. One such event was scheduled for Sunday for parents to gather at a Montclair firehouse to nibble light refreshments while watching “The Other Parcc: Parents Advocating Refusal on High Stakes Testing.”

One of the organizers, Christine McGoey, has two children in the local school system, and both will be sitting out the tests.

“I’m refusing because we’re taking a stand against this deeply flawed policy,” Ms. McGoey said. Parents who object to the tests have been communicating their concerns to local officials, she said, “but they’re just not listening.”

“I feel like the only thing left to do is just say no,” she said.

While these parent groups are vocal and get a lot of attention on social media, it is difficult to know how many people actually stand with them or how many will refuse the tests for their children. In the Millburn School District, about a dozen students had refused as of last week; in Bloomfield, 97 of about 6,200 students had opted out.

“Our board of education has taken a very strong stance against standardized testing,” said Salvatore Goncalves, superintendent of the Bloomfield School District, who added that there was “no doubt” children were being tested too much.

In New York last year, the state’s second year of Common Core-aligned testing, 49,000 students did not take the English test, according to theState Department of Education, while 67,000 skipped the math portion — numbers that include not only refusals, but also any student who did not take the tests for a “known valid reason.” Statewide, 1.1 million students took the assessments.

Education officials and some experts say the new tests, which require more writing and critical thinking, as opposed to filling in bubbles on an answer sheet, are a vast improvement over previous exams. And the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will give detailed, individual feedback to children in New Jersey for the first time. But in virtually every state, the tests will be tougher than the old ones, stoking fears that scores will plummet, as they did when New York began using its new exams.

There are generally few repercussions for students who do not take the tests, but if more than 5 percent of the student body at a given school or district opts out, that school may risk certain consequences, like greater monitoring or the loss of money for needy students.

While some superintendents have condoned or at least tolerated the opt-out movement, others have not. William Petrick, for example, schools superintendent in Little Falls, N.J., said his district would handle refusals “the way we handle any other disciplinary issue.”

Even Mr. Crisfield, who allowed opt-outs, expressed frustration with the movement, saying that refusing to take a test was not a right.

“What you have is a right to a free public education, and here’s the package we have for you,” he said. “You can’t choose to have P.E. on Tuesday and every other Thursday. You can’t choose not to take the calculus test.”Mr. Crisfield added: “I just worry about opting out as a conceit, that if it extends beyond Parcc, it will start eating away at the strength of public education.”

Selma Avdicevic, a parent with two children in Montclair public schools, said that while nobody enjoys standardized tests, “there is no other objective way to measure classroom success in public schools.” Tests, she said, including the SATs, finals and the LSATs, are part of the “reality of our life.”

Ultimately, even many parents who are skeptical of the standardized tests are likely to have their children go ahead and take them. Jenn Laino, who shivered outside the Brookdale School in Bloomfield last week waiting for her third grader, said that she signed a petition on Facebook objecting to the test, but that her daughter would sit for the exam all the same.

“She’s pretty much a straight-A student,” Ms. Laino said, “which might affect how I feel about it.”


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