Crunching the PARCC Opt-Out Data

What looks like a victory to some parents may soon backfire in their faces. The anti-PARCC hysteria that's torn through the Park Slopes of New Jersey could mean districts like Montclair will lose serious federal dollars. 
Much of the opposition to this test can be traced back to the teachers' union that resists every accountability measure, and aluminum-foil lefties who think PARCC is all part of some vast hedge fund conspiracy to take over public schools. 
It is also rooted in parents who think they have the best schools in the world and don't want a test to tell them something different.
Today's Star Ledger editorial focuses on the fiscal consequences for districts with high opt-out rates and notes that New Jersey’s highest opt-out numbers reside in the “Park Slopes of New Jersey” where “helicopter parents have made their district a top contender for losing federal school aid.”

Is that true? It's hard to tell, because  everyone’s spinning the numbers. The Department of Education is “very encouraged” by the low numbers, especially in the lower grades. (High school students are free to substitute the SAT, PSAT, and ACT tests as substitutes for graduation requirements). NJEA crows about the opt-out rates, tweeting that “thousands of students are opting out!” and urging teachers to “keep spreading the word that overreliance on standardized tests harms real education.” Save Our Schools-NJ, which NJEA lists as its “ally” on its website devoted to sabotaging the PARCC tests, quotes Diane Ravitch on its Facebook page that: “I have been told by a very high-ranking official in Néw York that the sheer number of opt outs will invalidate the governor's plan to use the scores to evaluate teachers.”

So let's look at the numbers.  Do opt-out families really reside in the “Park Slopes of New Jersey” or do  the demographics span socio-economic lines?

NJEA has a page on its anti-PARCC website that lists the number of opt-outs per district. They aren’t percentages, but head-counts.  I have no idea how accurate those numbers are, but they do have the benefit of specificity.  I looked at districts listed by NJEA as having more than 350 refusals (which can be misleading because N.J. has almost 600 school districts and enrollment varies enormously) and correlated that with median family income and rates of families who live below the poverty line. (Data is from Wikipedia, which is based on the 2010 census.)
 Here’s what I found

(For context, N.J.’s median family income is $87,000 and 10,4% below the poverty level.)

The districts with more than 350 refusals and lower median household incomes are Delran, East Orange, Howell, Newark, Jersey City, Kearny, Hamilton, Toms River, and Morris. Here’s a few notes on those districts.

Delran is the district with the most militantly anti-PARCC NJEA unit. Last November it s Executive Committee issued a "massive position statement" detailing its "defiant opposition to the New Jersey Department of Education's obsession with the use of high-stakes standardized testing," adding that "we stand in defiant opposition to the New Jersey Department of Education’s obsession with the use of high-stakes standardized testing, both in our own district and in districts across this state.” DEA has also hosted many opt-out events and was honored in January with a visit with NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka urged families to opt out, as he did with his children. He told reporters "We opted out," he said with a chuckle. "I told their mother we got to opt out, so they didn't" take it.

Toms River and Hamilton are two of N.J.’s largest suburban districts. Toms River has an enrollment of about 17,000 students and Hamilton has an enrollment of about 12,ooo students.  Toms River had 500 test refusals and  Hamilton had 354 test refusals; in both cases, opt-outs were 2.9% . Newark is N.J.’s largest school district, so its 460 opt-outs were just over 1% of district enrollment.

I have no information on Kearney, East Orange, Morris, or Howell. But I’d note that students there comprise a tiny fraction of N.J.’s school enrollment. In case you had any doubts, the demographics of the opt-out “movement” are clear: white and rich.

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