Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dissecting the Opt-Out Bubble: A Thorough Analysis

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education has just released a working paper called “The Bubble Bursts: The 2015 Opt-Out Movement in New Jersey” (h/t: Pete Cook). This analysis of the origins, gestalt, politics, and scope of test refusals during the state’s first year of PARCC testing is both granular and expansive, well worth reading in its entirety.  Here are a few highlights.

  • “There was a positive correlation between higher district opt-out rates and wealthier districts.” And, "in high  schools... districts with higher socioeconomic status had significantly higher opt out rates."
  • While the state calculated the opt-out rate at 19%, analysts discovered that the actual opt-out rate was 11%.  Why the discrepancy? “The data provided by the state...had a substantial amount of missing data – almost 40 percent of the districts did not report data to the state on the number of students registered to be tested, which made it difficult to produce an accurate picture of opt-out rates across the state. When we replaced these missing registered to test numbers with enrollment data reported elsewhere, we found that the average opt-out rate across the state declined to about 11 percent. Therefore, ironically, the incomplete data reported by the state in its accounting of opt-out rates resulted in inflated estimates of students not tested. On the other hand, the replacement of the missing data with enrollment data revealed a strong correlation between district socioeconomic status and opt-out rates across elementary, middle and high schools – with higher DFG districts having significantly higher opt out rates across the board.”
  • In fact, districts with the lowest opt-out rates were among those not reported to the state, which explains the inflated percentage cited by the DOE.
  • “Several factors contributed to these [opt-out] trends,” including “an accumulated skepticism with high stakes testing in general and the new PARCC assessment in particular, concerns from the Common Core State Standards rollout, teacher union opposition to premature teacher accountability, and confusion in the messages of state policymakers about graduation requirements. These explanatory factors were based upon interviews with over 30 state policymakers, professional education association representatives, advocacy group leaders, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students.” The researchers also mention concerns about federal overreach due to misunderstandings about the creation of the Common Core State Standards and “widespread cynicism” about high-stakes testing.
  • The growth of the opt-out movement was fostered by NJEA, with help from Save Our Schools-NJ.  In particular, there was “concerted teachers’ union opposition to the use of student growth techniques as measures for teacher accountability."
  • The paper explores the national and local climate that fueled the opt-out movement. On a national level there was “partisan hyperbole surrounding education policy.” Ironically, the Common Core was specifically developed by governors and state officers “to avoid the charge of federal intrusion.” But Race to the Top’s requirements of teacher accountability and college and career-ready standards were viewed by opt-out enthusiasts as “coercion.”
  • In New Jersey, the state won $38 million in the third round of Race to the Top after the Legislature adopted teacher evaluation and tenure reform, a bill supported by NJEA. “However, the teacher evaluation requirement that was part of RTTT alienated the state’s teachers’ union, The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), and resulted in strong NJEA opposition to the PARCC test.”
  • “In response to the state’s testing and evaluation plans, the NJEA launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign against the PARCC. The NJEA’s strategy was to use television, radio, billboard, print, and online advertisements, as well as social media, to raise awareness and concerns with parents and the public about the PARCC exams. Members of the NJEA were also active in the winter of 2014 and spring of 2015 in attending town hall events, rallies, and board meetings across the state and voicing their views.”
  • A PTA member in a high-poverty district explained, “All the negative press that the test was getting from the NJEA, which had that whole ad on TV, really impacted people. I was getting calls and text messages in response to the ads,” she said. 
  • State officials disclosed misleading statements made by NJEA and allied lobbyists. One ad featured a first-grader crying about taking a PARCC test. But first graders don’t take PARCC tests.
  • “The three groups advocating opting out that were mentioned most frequently in our interviews were Save Our Schools New Jersey, United Opt Out New Jersey, and Cares About Schools. Many participants identified Save Our Schools as the most involved in leading the opt-out charge.”
  • Researchers analyzed the use of social media in pro-PARCC and anti-PARCC campaigns. Anti-PARCC  lobbyists were far more prolific on Twitter and Facebook than pro-accountability groups. “There was also evidence of coordination amongst the groups who advocated opting out. NJEA, Save Our Schools New Jersey, and Opt Out New Jersey retweeted and mentioned each other’s tweets and communicated with similar actors during the five-month time period that we examined. Both opt-out advocacy groups had the NJEA among its users most retweeted, mentioned, and favorited, which suggested that the these groups were disseminating messages from the teachers’ union to their followers. For the NJEA, Save Our Schools New Jersey was among the top ten users it retweeted and mentioned, so the teachers’ union also appeared to have shared messages from the advocacy group. This finding aligns with statements made by several interviewees who represented special interest groups, that the union and advocacy groups were sharing messages on social media and working together to inform their followers."
  • Christie factor: “there was a political twist to the dynamic of state testing, as the state’s governor, Chris Christie, was running for president and sought to shore up his Republican candidacy by publicly opposing, and eventually dropping the CCSS, while maintaining state support for PARCC.”

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