Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Parent Threatens to Sue N.J. over PARCC Testing: Can We All Get a Grip?

"I will sue New Jersey Department of Education," said Veronica Mehno, a parent from West Windsor. "I will sue them so bad. I will sue them left, right and center. I will not allow my kids to be taken away. I will not allow the state to take control of my children." 
Wow. Is the D.O.E. threatening Ms. Mehno with loss of child custody?

No, her children are scheduled to take a standardized test, as New Jersey children have done for almost forty years. But this time it’s called PARCC, which has been the subject of a smear campaign by NJEA (appalled that student outcomes are scantily applied to teacher evaluations), Education Law Center (appalled that PARCC actually measures grade-level proficiency and, thus, raises real concerns about high school diploma qualifications), and Save Our Schools-NJ (appalled by any threat to the suburban status quo).

Hence, Ms. Mehno’s agitation.

In fact, PARCC is the first test aligned with the Common Core State Standards (now known, in a pander to misconceptions of the local origins of CCSS, as the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards). The results this year correlate closely with NAEP scores, commonly referred to as the “gold standard” of standardized testing.

And, while parents from wealthy West Windsor (all white and Asian, median household income of $156,110 ) may resent the intrusion of assessments intended to evaluate state and district student outcomes, refusing PARCC tests comes at a price to families who can’t afford to opt into exclusive suburban school districts that come bundled with granite countertops and access to top-notch schools.

After all, if the ability of the state to monitor student proficiency is compromised,  how do we address educational inequities? For example, today’s Press of Atlantic City looks at the academic preparedness of local students at Atlantic Cape Community College where, like N.J.’s other 2-year colleges, “as many as two-thirds of new students require at least one remedial course.” This may be a non-issue for parents like Ms. Mehno, but it is for many parents. According to data from the D.O.E., more than 70% of students who refused PARCC tests came from families who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch.

In this sense, refusing PARCC tests for your children becomes an ethical question, much akin to one answered twenty-five years ago by the State Supreme Court when, ironically, Education Law Center litigated the famous school funding Abbott cases. Then, N.J. schools were funded solely through local property taxes and  districts like West Windsor often spent as much as twice per pupil as districts like Camden and Trenton and Newark. The Court deemed that this was inherently separate and unequal, noting that N.J.'s state school system functioned as two separate systems, one for wealthy students and one for poor students.

Court-ordered compensatory state funding certainly hasn’t alleviated this educational segregation. But the opt-out movement heralds a related challenge: students in rich districts don’t take PARCC tests and poor students do. Is this the way we model ethical behavior for our children?

Whom, by the way, aren’t being “taken away.” They’re sitting for a standardized test, now reduced to half the time as last year, which allows families, schools, districts, and the state to assess student readiness for college and careers. Let’s get a grip, please.

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