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4-24-15 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Christie Still Straddles Fence on Online Tests, Common Core Standards…Cites value of standardized tests as measure of school quality, but takes wait-and-see approach on PARCC

John Mooney | April 24, 2015


Gov. Chris Christie yesterday offered some of his most expansive comments – if not an outright defense -- on the new PARCC tests and against the movement that has seen as many as 50,000 students sit out the exams.

In one of his weekly “town hall” meetings, this one in Cedar Grove, he responded to a Montclair mother’s questions about his position on the testing and his administration’s not-so-veiled threats that schools with very high opt-out numbers could face sanctions and potential loss of federal aid.

Federal and state rules dating back to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act require that at least 95 percent of students participate in the annual testing. The mandate was meant to prevent school districts from essentially “hiding” their lowest-performing students -- the opt-out issues weren’t an issue at the time.

But those 2001 provisions have become the new hammer for states facing rising civil disobedience over the testing – and Christie’s reply yesterday hardly emphasized the threat of penalties for schools with excessive opt-out rates.

“These are not just state matters, but federal rules,” Christie said. “If you violate the federal standards, there will be penalties.

“If they opt out, that’s their right. But don’t come back and complain that you don’t get the money you used to.”

Opt-out rate was as low as 3 percent statewide in state’s elementary schools

Promises to weigh impact of ‘opt-outs’ on assessment of teachers and schools, but asserts that new testing will prove its worth

But Christie’s remarks became more nuanced after that statement. In what has been political balancing act when it comes to the new tests, and especially the Common Core State Standards that are the centerpiece of the tests, Christie once again offered lukewarm support of the testing and instead said the jury is still out.

“If the results come back and don’t make sense, we’ll look for changes to the test,” the governor said. “There is no test that is going to be perfect.”

Christie has become more circumspect about the standards and testing since he began positioning himself for a possible run for the White House. The Common Core standards in particular are anathema to the more conservative wing of the national GOP.

Christie said a state task force reviewing the PARCC assessments and the Common Core will have a report within a couple of weeks.

“The biggest limitation I have right now is not having the results yet,” he said. “Without having the results, I can’t make a judgment of whether the test is valid or invalid.”

Still, in the end, he did not back down on the value of testing in general, saying that while families in districts like Montclair or his hometown of Livingston – another big opt-out district -- may not worry as much about the quality of their schools, that is hardly the case in every district.

“There is no way to evaluate across the test but by (state) testing,” Christie said. “If we don’t, we won’t know. I grew up in Livingston, a great school system where most kids did really well. And maybe they’re not worried as much in a district like that. And in Montclair, it’s an outstanding school system, and you’re not worried as much. But the fact is we need to know in other places where kids are not doing as well. And we need to be able to compare it other places.”

“The more the participation, the better I can determine if the test is good,” Christie concluded. “The less participation, the less valid the results.”

Star Ledger - N.J. schools with high PARCC opt outs could have to make changes, education commissioner says  ‘…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…

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
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.

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608