By Brenda Flanagan
In Princeton, 36 percent of students opted out of the mandated PARCC Achievement Tests this Spring. As a result, the school district could be among others with high refusal rates and facing financial sanctions including the loss of state and federal education funding, according to officials. Students looked surprised.
“It kind of was seen as an option. We had the option to opt out and are now being penalized for that doesn’t seem fair for the school,” said Princeton High School sophomore Maddie Deutsch.
“I thought it was outrageous,” said Liz a volunteer from Save Our Schools NJ
There’s a 95 percent federal compliance rate. Even so, a grassroots parents group called Save Our Schools NJ organized statewide boycotts of PARCC testing. They said they’re shocked at threats of funding cuts to districts that don’t meet federal quotas.
“The districts have no control over the parents’ decisions. It’s the parents’ fundamental rights to do what’s in the best interests of their children,” said Liz.
Preliminary estimates show some 15 percent of New Jersey high school juniors refused to take the test — even though federal law requires
PARCC testing. New Jersey statutes do not permit districts to let students opt out. Yesterday Education Commissioner David Hespe said this isn’t “no harm, no foul” and that districts which don’t take proper corrective action risk losing federal and state funding.
“I don’t really think that’s a new threat. I think that they’re repeating a threat that we’ve already heard and that a lot of people frankly don’t think is going to come to pass,” said Kristin, a volunteer from Save Our Schools NJ.
“The Department of Education are acting like bullies and the idea that the commissioner has to do this is absolutely wrong. They have tremendous discretion at the state level as to what they do in response to federal pressure. There’s no record of the federal government ever swooping in and forcing funding cuts, either directly or thru the Department of Education,” said Julia Rubin from Save Our Schools NJ.
“It’s gonna have ramifications that are out of my control,” Gov. Christie said during a town hall in Cedar Grove. He said that federal and state money is connected to testing — and he’s playing hardball with people who opt out.
“It’s their right if they want to opt out. There’s nothing I can do to stop them. But then don’t come later and complain you’re not getting the money that you’re used to. And that’s gonna mean with a property tax cap in effect – that it’s gonna have to be diminished services,” said Christie.
The NJEA lobbied hard to convince parents to opt out of PARCC testing. Its results will help evaluate teacher performance.
“There’ll be a push back from the community because they’re gonna want their programs and if you’re cutting down on school funding they’ll have to get money from somewhere and there’s only one place left in school districts — property taxes,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.
Final opt out numbers won’t be available until after testing is completed this spring. The question will then be: will putting financial pressure on already squeezed school budgets prompt PARCC hold outs to reconsider?