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3-27-15 Education Issues in the News



Future hardly assured with Senate so far quiet on setting statewide policy for families refusing to let kids take testCredit: Amanda Brown

What it is: The bill (A-4165) sets a statewide policy for schools to follow for kids who are sitting out the new online PARCC testing. It includes standards for schools to provide alternative programs for those students and also sets a procedure for families to notify the schools in advance.

What it means: The 72-0 vote marked a rare show of bipartisan support for what has become one of the state’s most contentious topics, with thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- so far opting out of the tests. With Republicans jumping on board, some wondered if it signaled that Gov. Chris Christie might go along, even if he has publicly continued to back the tests.



NJEA List of Opt-Outs

But: Even so, the prospects in the Senate are slim, at least at the moment, and others saw little risk for the Republicans. The Democratic leadership so far is not moving on this bill or another one that would slow down the use of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores in teacher or school evaluations. And now that the Senate has gone into a budget recess and any such action is all but ruled out for at least several months.

The impetus: The legislation comes as districts continue to grapple with how to deal with rising numbers of families sitting out the tests for on one reason or another. Much of the disagreement is about what some see as an over-testing culture in the state’s schools; others oppose the nationwide Common Core State Standards that drive the testing; and for others it’s a combination of the above and more.

How many exactly: The precise number of opt-outs has been elusive, with state officials saying they would not have a count until the first round of PARCC testing is completed in the first week of April. The New Jersey Education Association, which has led much of the opposition to the testing, including an expensive TV campaign, said it has counted through news reports and other sources an estimated 40,000 children sitting out the tests. The NJEA’s list is available online.

What the bill would do: The legislation would set a standard policy for districts to follow allowing families to notify a district of their decision, and requiring the school to provide a setting away from the testing for those children.

*Exact words: “A school district or charter school shall provide educationally appropriate ungraded alternative activities, or allow the student to engage in supervised reading or other self-directed work, during the time in which the assessment is being administered. Any such activity shall not occur in the same room in which the assessment is being administered. In the event that a student’s regularly scheduled class is in session during the administration of a PARCC assessment, then the student shall be allowed to attend that class.”


Star Ledger - Camden closing one school, transferring four to charters

By Jason Laday | South Jersey Times 
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on March 26, 2015 at 7:22 PM, updated March 26, 2015 at 7:27 PM

CAMDEN -- City education officials on Wednesday announced plans to close one Camden public school and hand four others to renaissance charter school systems.

Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced that the 105-year-old J.G. Whittier Family School will be permanently shuttered at the end of the academic year. Henry L. Bonsall Family School, East Camden Middle School, Francis X. McGraw Elementary School and Rafael Cordero Molina Elementary School will, in addition to receiving much-needed renovations and repairs, each be taken over by one three Camden charter organizations.

"Camden's kids can't wait any longer for the opportunity to attend a safe, successful, neighborhood public school," said Rouhanifard in a statement. "This announcement marks a new beginning for Camden's lowest-performing schools. Today we are addressing the systemic problems that for too long have held our students back from their full potential, and taking a bold stand for Camden's kids."

Wednesday's announcement came more than a month after the superintendent stated that as many as two out of five Camden students fail to graduate from high school, and that only one in five third- to eighth-graders are performing at their grade level in language and math.

"By partnering with non-profit education organizations with proven track records of running successful schools, the district is giving families in its most-struggling schools the opportunity to choose a high-quality neighborhood public school that sets their child on a path for success in life," read a statement from the district.

The Bonsall Family School, in the fall, will become Camden Prep Bonsall Elementary, under the Uncommon Renaissance charter system, serving all students entering grades K-4. Bonsall students entering grades 5-8 can remain at the school, under the tutelage of district teachers and staff.

According to Rouhanifard, only 9 percent of students at Bonsall can read or perform math at grade level.

Three schools will be absorbed by the Mastery Schools of Camden charter system. East Camden Middle School will become Mastery: East Camden, McGraw Elementary will be Mastery: McGraw, and Molina will become Master: Molina. All students currently enrolled to return to the schools next year can choose to remain with the charter system or other alternatives.

East Camden students can opt to transfer to the Catto Community Family School, as well as McGraw students to the Alfred Cramer College Preparatory Lab School and Monlina students to Cooper's Poynt School.

As for the Whittier school, where the front door is covered in caution tape, the district says its closing has been a long time coming. According to Rouhanifard, only one in 10 students can read or perform math at grade level.

Those students, come next school year, will be transferred to other facilities. According to the district, students in grades K-1 and 5-8 will have a guaranteed seat at the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy charter school in Lanning Square, which is slated to open in the fall. Students in grades 2-4 will attend a district school located inside the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.

All of these changes are pending approval of the state Department of Education.

"The superintendent has made a courageous decision that will swiftly and dramatically improve a public education system that has come up short for generations of Camden families," said Mayor Dana Redd in a statement. "I believe deeply that today will go down in this city's history as a moment of true progress. Our families have been clear in voicing their right to a great neighborhood public school. I applaud the superintendent for listening to Camden residents and responding quickly and decisively to give families the opportunity for a great education they deserve."


Jason Laday may be reached at jladay@southjerseymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonLaday. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.

The Record - N.J. Assembly approves bill allowing parents to exclude kids from standardized state tests

MARCH 26, 2015, 6:39 PM    LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 2015, 6:39 PM


The New Jersey State Assembly unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would allow parents and guardians to exclude their children from standardized state tests and require schools to provide them with other activities.

The bill was passed amid growing controversy over new state tests that critics say take time and resources away from the classroom and are not a good measure of learning. But test supporters, including business leaders and some educators, say that setting up an opt-out policy would encourage more people to refuse tests that are meant to measure student progress and school performance.

The bill’s sponsors argue that parents and guardians should have the right to refuse tests for their children because of the “lingering questions” about the value of the tests.

“Many say the test is unnecessarily confusing,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Maywood. “This is especially worrisome for parents of ESL students and students with special needs, who worry the test will set their children up for failure. They should have a say in whether the test is suitable for their children.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, prefaced his vote by saying that parents should have their children participate so the results can be analyzed and to see if the new testing system benefits students.

“I don’t want anyone to interpret my vote as encouraging them” to refuse, he said.

Under the proposed legislation, parents would be able to provide written notice to schools excluding their children from PARCC tests, named for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers group of states that developed them. Parents would have to notify schools at least 14 days in advance.

Schools would have to provide “educationally appropriate” activities for non-testing students in an area other than the testing room — a move that some parents say is critical to avoid children being forced to “sit and stare” during testing. They argue that “sit and stare” is punitive and hard for children.

The state requires that students in grades 3 to 11 take the exams in math and English language arts, but state officials have also said that it is up to districts to handle those students who do not. In some schools, where testing took place in March, hundreds of students refused to participate.

Test critics lobbied for the bill’s passage at hearings and in call-in and letter campaigns to legislators. The bill still needs approval in the state Senate and would have to be signed by Gov. Christie in order to become law.

Email: adely@northjersey.com


Star Ledger - PARCC: In unanimous vote, N.J. Assembly says schools should accommodate opt outs

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on March 26, 2015 at 3:28 PM, updated March 26, 2015 at 4:47 PM

TRENTON — Students who don't want to take the PARCC exams should be able to attend regular classes or work on other school activities during testing, according to New Jersey's Assembly.

A bill (A4165) requiring schools to accommodate students refusing the state's standardized tests passed the Assembly 72-0 this afternoon. Before becoming law, the proposal requires approval from the state Senate — which has yet to act on any PARCC legislation passed by the Assembly — and Gov. Chris Christie.

The bill directs schools to provide students refusing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams with an ungraded alternative activity or to allow those students to engage in supervised reading or other self directed work.

If a student's regularly scheduled class is in session during the administration of a PARCC test the student is refusing, that student would be allowed to attend the class, according to the bill.

New Jersey is among a majority of states with no policy on whether students can refuse state tests or how schools should treat those who do. Instead, each district was left to make its own decision when the new tests for grades 3-11 debuted across the state in late February and early March

Thousands of students have refused PARCC for various reasons, including concerns that the math and English tests are unnecessarily confusing, have stolen away too much instructional time and are too new to be used as a 10 percent weight in teacher evaluations.

Some districts have allowed students to read in another room during testing this month, but others have made students stay with their classmates while they test.

A Hope Township eighth grader testified at last week's Assembly Education committee meeting that she was forced to sit at a blank computer screen, and a Clark Township teen told NJ Advance Media he was pressured into taking PARCC even though he had submitted a refusal letter.

Jean McTavish, a leader of the New Jersey chapter of United Opt Out, called the bill "a great first step" in addressing the disparate treatment of students refusing PARCC.

"I feel like we are starting to be heard, and that's a great thing," McTavish said.

The state Department of Education has said that schools could face sanctions, including financial penalties, if 95 percent of students don't take the tests, as required by federal law. But the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has doubted that financial penalties will be enforced.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), who introduced the bill, previously urged students should take the tests, regardless of the legislation.

"I think it would be helpful for everybody's kids to take this test," he said last month. "You don't know what's wrong with it really until you actually try it."

Republican support of the bill shouldn't be seen as encouragement to opt out but merely support of parents and students having that option, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said

"A parent should allow the children to take the tests and then let's analyze the results of those tests to determine whether they are skewed, whether they have benefit, whether they are achieving the goals that have been set forth," Bramnick said.

The bill would also require districts to notify parents of scheduled PARCC exams by Sept. 30 of each year and provide information on how the results will be used.

Parents would have until 14 days before the test to provide written notification that a student will not participate.

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.