New Jersey's Opt-Out Numbers Are In

New Jersey’s opt-out numbers are in, reports today’s NJ Spotlight.  (Here's additional coverage from the Star Ledger, The Record, and the Wall Street Journal.) Education Commissioner David Hespe said, “our goal is to have these numbers much smaller…[but] we were very encouraged by the numbers, especially in the lower grades.” He added that families “voted with their feet.”

But NJEA spokesman Steve Baker countered, “I am shocked they consider these as low numbers." Spotlight notes that the union mounted "a multi-million-dollar media campaign critical of the testing.”

Here are the number of opt-outs by grade span:
3.8 percent of students in districts that include grades 3-6, in both language arts and          math
4.6 percent of students in districts that serve grades 3-8
7 percent in 9th grade, in both language arts and Algebra I
14.5 percent in 11th grade in both language arts and Algebra II
It’s not surprising that the far more 11th graders refused the test; the DOE decided that, unlike the HSPA, N.J.’s previous 11th grade test, the PARCC is not a graduation requirement and students are free to substitute SAT’s,  ACT’s, or portfolio assessments. (The  HSPA topped out at 8th-9th grade level material while the PARCC sets the bar higher; the fear was that requiring PARCC would  cause N.J.'s high school graduation rate in poor cities to  plummet.)

So, in a district where vast numbers of high school students take college aptitude tests and A.P. classes, why take the PARCC? In Marlboro High School, for example, where the median household income is $130,400, 37% of students didn’t bother with the PARCC tests. Princeton High School, the birthplace of Save Our Schools-NJ, has reported that about half of high school seniors opt-out of tests because “students were more concerned with A.P. and SAT tests"; the median household income there is $107,071.

Thus, the divide that NJEA and SOS-NJ appear to support: poor kids take PARCC tests in high school and rich ones don't. A consequence of the relatively  high rate of opt-outs at the high school level is that  New Jersey's ability to compile meaningful granular data that differentiates need is undermined, a double-whammy for poor kids, Thus, opting-out of annual standardized tests, especially ones that actually measure college and career-readiness,  becomes a civil rights issue.

Here's Louisiana Superintendent John White:
"We should examine how and how much testing we do," White said last [October]. "But we should always be conscious that we still have a country and a society that is rife with inequity and injustices, and until the time when we can assure every family of an equal opportunity to achieve an excellent education, we must commit to an annual measurement of our delivery of an education so that we can lay bare the honest truth as to whether or not we succeeded in educating every child."
He added: "The value of testing, at its essence, is that it tells the truth and that is a civil rights issue first and foremost and should not be forgotten by anyone," he said.

NJEA and Save Our Schools have, almost single-handedly, heightened the inequities and injustices that White refers to. I'm sure this result wasn't intentional -- the point of their "multi-million dollar campaign," after all,was to rachet up the opt-out numbers in order to undermine schools' abilities to tie student outcomes to teacher evaluations. But in the end, the issue of intentionality is moot. Anti-PARCC lobbyists have diminished the state's ability to provide equal educational opportunities to kids, and they own that whether they like it or not.

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