MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville Township Board of Education met for a regular meeting on Jan. 20. The first order of business was to honor fourteen teachers who have been awarded the Governor’s Teacher Award and the Governor’s Educational Services Professional Award for 2015.

After a short break, Superintendent Paul Fried spoke about the pending PARCC testing in the District.

PARCC stands for The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and is a set of assessments that the District will administer beginning March 2nd on a rolling schedule, for students in grades 3-11, in the subjects of math and ELA (English Language Arts and Literacy).

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According to the PARCC website to which the District refers parents seeking more information, “These new assessments will replace outdated and ineffective tests with new tests that measure real world skills that colleges and employers say they value – like critical thinking and problem solving. PARCC is a group of 20 states working together to develop a common set of computer-based K–12 assessments in English language arts/Literacy and math linked to the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Forty-six states and the District of Columbia voluntarily adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010 and 2011, and these states need assessments that are aligned to these higher standards.

“The new tests also are being developed in response to the longstanding concerns of educators, parents and employers who want assessments that better measure students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and their ability to communicate clearly,” the PARCC website states. 

Tests vary from 40 to 60 minutes, take place over the span of five days for each school level, and are composed of two groups of testing dates:  Performance-based assessments, which will be tested in the District from March 2 until March 20, and End-of-year assessments, which will take place in the various schools from April 20 until May 8 (The schedule of testing for each school can be seen HERE)

But some parents are voicing discontent with the assessments, and Fried addressed the situation at the meeting.

“Parents within various states and New Jersey have made comments, asked questions, voiced concerns about the testing, sometimes about the frequency, the length, the format – because it’s now computer and technology based – and more specifically I’ve been asked by just a couple of parents recently in writing, about our policy, with regard to testing, [when] there is a refusal to be tested on the part of any our parents,” began Fried.

Fried stated that the State Department of Education believes the PARCC assessments are a “valuable test,” and therefore will not define an “Opt Out” policy. 

“On the other hand, parents, of course, have a lot of prerogatives, legally, about their children’s education, and parents can of course make decisions about those kinds of issues,” continued Fried.

Fried stated that handling the situation of students Opting Out of the tests falls into “Administrative Procedure.”

“We will not punish students or create any consequences with regard to that decision. We will not have the students sit in front of a computer for the testing period and stare at the computer and feel uncomfortable during the testing. We will instead have the child whose parent has written us a note excusing them from testing be in an alternative environment, potentially a study hall , the media center, or they would be supervised somewhere where they could read for that period of testing time,” Fried stated.

Fried explained that parents who wish their student to not participate in the testing must write a letter to the student’s school administrator stating such. Students whose parents have excused them from the testing will not be required to participate in the makeup exams, either. Fried stated that a letter will be sent to district parents explaining the procedure that will be used when parents Opt Out their students from testing. In the meantime, “Certainly I’ll be responding to any individuals who send us correspondence,” indicating that they wish their student to not participate, stated Fried.

Fried went on to explain that the State Department of Education is “leaving it up to the school districts to make a decision about how we will, at that time, treat the child, and handle the situation.”

However, not every district will be providing an alternate room for students not taking the test.

“I have seen, through emails, there are some districts who decided to adopt what’s being called ‘sit and stare,’ where, if the student refuses to take the test, they would have the child in the testing environment staring at the screen for an hour,” stated Fried.

“That’s never the way I will act towards students I’m [basically] taking care of,” stated Fried. “Most superintendents are moving forward with a sense of ‘we’re not going to punish students.’ Very often it’s the decision of their parents, of course, and we have students as young as eight years old and in third grade taking this test. So we’re not going to punish our students, but, again, we’re also not going to provide entertainment for them, or a different learning environment for them.  We would put them in an environment where they’re comfortable but they would have to read for that period of time.”

Board Member John Morella asked if the students would have any foreseeable consequences for not participating in the testing, and Fried stated, “There’s no individual ramification, […] but there could potentially be ramifications to the school district. You have to remember that the participating school districts are receiving federal money for this, as part of the process, and one of the requirements of the federal government is that 95% of the district’s students participate in the testing process."

“So theoretically, if fewer than 95% of our students participate in this [testing], there could be ramifications to this school district, but not for individual students. We’re not sure what those ramifications or consequences [would be]; it may be creating an improvement plan for the future,” explained Fried.

Board President Karen Cortellino asked Fried if the state is tracking the number of parents who are opting their children out of the assessments, and Fried stated that the County Executive Superintendent asked for that information.

“There are some districts where there are many parents who are already looking to move in this direction [of opting out].  But that hasn’t been our experience in Montville right now,” stated Fried.

Fried also explained that the District’s HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) “Report Card” is now online (see it HERE). The Report Card is a self-assessment tool used by each school every year, as required by law. Administrators at each Montville school, aided by Director of Guidance Leslee Scheckman, rate their anti-HIB programs, training, curriculum and instruction on HIB, reporting, and investigative procedures, and the grade is assembled on a chart that is sent to the state. Out of a maximum of 78 points, Montville schools rated themselves as 71 or better, and the average score was 74.

Fried’s resignation has been made official, and Cortellino stated her dismay at the change (Read about the announcement HERE) and discussed the timeline for finding a replacement. District Administrator James Tevis has sent out Request for Proposals to several “head-hunting” firms who specialize in finding superintendents, firms have responded, and “the Board is vetting those materials, and will set up interviews with these firms,” according to Cortellino. "Once the firm is selected we will develop a process to attract a suitably qualified candidate."

The firm that aided Montville Township in hiring Fried “held stakeholder meetings” to identify “qualities that the Montville community was seeking in a superintendent” before interviewing candidates, created an ad, and the most qualified candidates are presented to the Board for interviewing.

The firm’s process was “thorough,” according to Cortellino, “so we will follow a similar process, and hope to have the new superintendent seated by July 1st,” stated Cortellino.

Board Member Charles Grau stated that the high school media center renovation process is moving forward, but it does not appear that the center will be usable by Sept. 1 as had been previously hoped. He also stated his admiration for the MUDD event last week (Read about the event HERE).

Fried stated that January is “School Board Recognition Month,” and complimented the Board of Education on working “tirelessly” on behalf of the children and the community in the school district.

“They do so without any pay, oftentimes without much recognition,” continued Fried. “People in the audience come because they often have a problem they want to share with the board, and most of the emails that we get are also about problems, as opposed to thank you’s or recognition. So I wanted to take this moment tonight to say how much I appreciate all of the hard work that they do. I’ve worked closely with most of them for the entire five years I’ve been in the district, and I can tell you that the schools and the children are in good hands.”