Education

Montclair Parents on PARCC: To Opt-out or Not to Opt-Out, That is the Question

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MONTCLAIR, NJ – The opt-out movement is growing in New Jersey communities near and far, and especially in Montclair. The question at the forefront of many parents' minds are whether or not they will allow their children to take the PARCC assessment. 

During the Dec. 15 Montclair Board of Education meeting, parents, students and educators spoke on their concerns with Montclair students’ readiness and challenges in preparing for the exam in March. The public outcry is somewhat in response to parents' concerns over too much testing and test-prep pressures that are stressing educators and students. 

As a result of public outcry for a choice of allowing parents to opt out of administering the PARCC to their children, Montclair Board of Education officials passed a resolution during the first reading at the Dec. 15 meeting. If adopted, the policy would allow parents to opt-out of PARCC testing. The second reading was scheduled to take place on January 26, but a winter storm canceled the meeting. The next Board of Education meeting is set to take place on February 9. 

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With less than a month to go, New Jersey educators are preparing students for the PARCC assessment, computerized exam replacing NJASK and HSPA. Districts are bracing themselves and making plans for what to do with students who will not be testing. State officials have expressed that a large number of students are not expected to opt-out. Nevertheless, district must prepare for both scenarios, students who test and activities for those who do not test.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is comprised of a consortium of states working together to develop assessments that will measure college and career readiness of students.  The PARCC assessments are a computer-based measurement of Mathematics and Language Arts Literacy skills that is designed to give schools, teachers, parents and students better feedback on how well children are performing.

Regardless of whether some parents choose to have their children opt out, school district officials have been proactive in making sure that district students are prepared and families are informed. Montclair school officials have been hosting PARCC information sessions for parents since the summer and are hopeful that they have properly equipped their students and staff.  Preparation for the PARCC exam has been in effect since the 2012-2013 school year through implemented changes to the curriculum by adding Common Core standards on which the PARCC is based. 

District-hosted workshops were facilitated by Natalee Bartlett, supervisor of Professional Development and Michelle Russell, chief talent officer for the Montclair School District. Bartlett told parents during a summer PARCC session that the district has put together a team of individuals who will troubleshoot any technological glitches while students are testing. The district PARCC-readiness team has been given the charge of preparing for the PARCC assessment by ensuring there is enough bandwidth so that the network doesn’t overload with students taking the assessment simultaneously. The PARCC-readiness team also purchased additional technological equipment such as desktops and mobile labs housed with enough laptops for students, while teachers allow students opportunities to practice on the technological equipment.

Bartlett and Russell have been educating parents and guardians on the changes in the curriculum and assessment and distributing resources for further reading, as well as answering any questions.

Since the pilot implementation in some districts in the 2013-2014 school year, of which Montclair did not participate, a growing number of parents have teamed-up across the State of New Jersey to verbalize their objections to the PARCC assessment. Many of these parents are citing technological readiness concerns, level of difficulty, narrowing of curriculum as a result of test preparation and student stress among the host of objections. Despite public outcry, districts such as Montclair have been doing what they can to prepare students for the assessments.

Sarah Blaine is among a number of Montclair parents who have been vocal in their objections to the PARCC assessment. Blaine, who has a fourth-grader in the Montclair Public Schools, is concerned about having her daughter take the PARCC and has decided to refuse to allow her daughter to be tested. Blaine said that last year when the Common Core Standards were first implemented in Montclair, she started blogging about them, earning her exposure and putting her in touch with like-minded parents.

Although not opposed to assessing students, Blaine is concerned about the common core standards and the amount of high-stakes testing children are exposed to. “My goal is to get parents to wake up and become knowledgeable and aware.” Blaine has strong feelings about the frequency of the assessments, as well. “We don’t need to be putting our kids up for testing year after year or using high stakes testing to assess our children. When you create a system where teachers’ jobs are riding on the test, then it puts pressure on children to perform and teachers to tailor curriculum to the test.”

Blaine encourages other parents to take the test themselves to see what students are going through. “The most important thing by far is to go through and take the test themselves and make up their own mind.”

“There were changes in the curriculum and changes in assessment this year for our students. We are now using the common core to teach our students,” said Bartlett during the summer PARCC training for families. “We hope to give resources to parents so that parents and students will be prepared.” “The common core is designed to better prepare students for high school and college. The Montclair curriculum is aligned to the Common Core,” she told parents and guardians.

Blaine, among many other parents, has been traveling the state of New Jersey voicing concerns to Commissioner of Education David Hespe, state Board of Education members and legislators. During the January State Board of Education meeting in Trenton, over 100 parents from across New Jersey signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Blaine said, “This isn’t about me. This is to make people aware that our kids education is important.” Blaine feels that the small, but forceful movement of parents has grown and will get even bigger once the test scores come in. “Schools are about kids and educating kids, not generating data for researchers.”

For more information on the PARCC assessment, visit parcconline.com

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