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4-22 and 23-15 Opt Out Issue: As Feds Say It, As NJEA Sees It

Star Ledger - N.J. schools with high PARCC opt outs could have to make changes, education commissioner says   ‘…But opponents of  the PARCC tests, including the New Jersey Education Association, have told parents that scenario is unlikely because New Jersey schools have not lost federal funding over test participation before. However, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states don't respond to high opt-out rates, according to a Chalkbeat report...’

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com By  Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 

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on April 22, 2015 at 5:33 PM, updated April 23, 2015 at 7:27 AM

TRENTON — Any New Jersey school that fails to have 95 percent of its students take the PARCC exams will be placed on a corrective action plan, and schools with especially high opt-out rates could have state funding withheld, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said Wednesday.

Hespe said in an interview after the Assembly Budget Committee hearing on education that the state is taking PARCC participation rates "very seriously," even for schools that do not receive federal funding.

"We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure that we have a comfort level moving forward that we are going to hit that 95 percent," Hespe said. "This is not a no harm, no foul situation here."

Public schools are required by the federal No Child Left Behind law to have 95 percent of students participate in annual state tests, and Hespe has previously warned that schools could face the loss of federal Title I funding for missing that mark on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

But opponents of  the PARCC tests, including the New Jersey Education Association, have told parents that scenario is unlikely because New Jersey schools have not lost federal funding over test participation before.

However, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states don't respond to high opt-out rates, according to a Chalkbeat report.

Hespe said Wednesday that the first step is corrective action plans, which could require schools to hold more informational meetings about PARCC or to schedule face-to-face meetings with any parents who want to opt their children out of the tests.

Before levying any additional sanctions, the state would take into account whether this is the first year a district missed the 95 percent target, how much it missed it by and whether the school took actions either to prevent or promote opt outs, he said.

"Egregious situations" could result in the loss of federal or state funds, Hespe said.

Nearly 15 percent of New Jersey high school juniors refused to take PARCC, according to preliminary "parent refusal rates" announced by the state Department of Education last week. But the overwhelming majority, about 96 percent, of students in grades 3-8 participated statewide.

Hespe told the Assembly Budget Committee that there will likely be schools that miss the 95 percent participation target. Montclair High School, for example, reported that nearly 70 percent of students refused PARCC during the first round of testing in March.

Final school participation rates won't be available until after testing concludes later this spring, and the state still needs guidance from the U.S. Department of Education about how to respond, Hespe said.

But the department isn't taking schools with high opt-out rates lightly, Hespe said.

"We are going to go and we are going to spend some time there and we are going to find out what happened and why," Hespe said.

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

 

NJEA News Service - ‘Stop attacking parents with their tax dollars’ Steinhauer demands that Hespe retract opt-out threat

Published by NJEA on Thursday, April 23, 2015

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer today demanded that Education Commissioner David Hespe retract his threat to withhold state aid from districts where parents followed their conscience and refused PARCC testing for their children.

“This is a deeply disappointing development,” said Steinhauer.  “It is clear that the Department of Education is distressed that parents across the state have turned against its efforts to impose more and more harmful and unnecessary high-stakes standardized tests on their children.

“But threats and intimidation are utterly inappropriate,” Steinhauer said.  “The Department needs to listen to parents, not threaten their children’s schools.  It should stop attacking parents with their own tax dollars.”

“This is yet another reason why we are urging the New Jersey Senate to pass S-2767, which would give parents an explicit right to refuse to let their children take the PARCC tests,” he said.  The Assembly version of the bill passed by a vote of 72-0 earlier this year. Steinhauer also encouraged Congress to de-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing in its re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has been the driver of much of the national testing mania.

Data collected from various sources by NJEA indicates that at least 50,000 students opted out of the first round of PARCC testing spanning March 1-20.  Other estimates have run as high as 70,000 students.  The second round of PARCC testing begins May 1.

“In an environment where the Christie administration has essentially held state aid flat for several years and is more than $6 billion behind on what the state’s school funding formula calls for, there is no justification for using districts’ already inadequate state aid as a bludgeon against parents,” said Steinhauer.

“School funding is appropriated by the Legislature to support public education.  It is not intended as a tool for the Commissioner of Education to enforce compliance with a failing policy that parents are rejecting in droves,” he added.

“NJEA calls on the Legislature to remind the Department of Education that its role is to support public education and schools.  Its role is not to punish those schools, and the parents and children that rely on them, by punitively withholding state aid.  That would result in lost opportunities for students and possibly even in higher property taxes for those communities,” Steinhauer said.  “Legislators need to tell Commissioner Hespe that his threat should be retracted immediately.”

“It’s time for the Department of Education to acknowledge the valid concerns of parents about the increasing damage being caused by high-stakes testing.  The Department needs to engage in an open dialogue with those parents and demonstrate a genuine willingness to both listen and make meaningful changes.  Those parents, after all, are also the taxpayers who provide the money the state uses to support their schools. They deserve better than to be threatened with the very same tax dollars they provide in the first place.”

Hespe’s threat to withhold state education aid is a new tack for the Christie administration, and does not involve federal funding.  Even though the U.S. Department of Education has in the past said that any district with an opt-out rate of more than 5 percent could lose federal funding, that has never happened in New Jersey.

 

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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