TRENTON, NJ – Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation on Monday that prohibits the state from withholding school aid to school districts based on standardized test participation — an action the state's education commissioner had previously said could be used in "egregious situations."

“Students, parents and educators are the winners today. These new laws give our youngest students an important new protection from inappropriate high-stakes testing and ensure that taxpayers and schools aren’t penalized when parents exercise their right to refuse that testing for their older children," said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer in a statement.

Federal law requires schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on annual standardized tests, but thousands of students across New Jersey last spring, including nearly 15 percent of high school juniors, refused to take their exams, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

Sign Up for E-News

Sponsored by Senator Nia H. Gill, S-2881 has now been signed into law.

This legislation S-2881, was in response to media reports indicating that the state Education Commissioner Hespe suggested withholding aid from districts if a significant share of the students in the district did not take the assessment developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

“We could not allow the state to penalize local districts by withholding funding based upon arbitrary criteria set by the commissioner. After meeting with local parents in my district, and discussing the potential repercussions of aid losses based upon participation in PARCC, we decided there was a need to protect the state’s children,” said Senator Gill. “This law will prevent the state from taking action against a district related to participation in standardized tests, whether it is the PARCC test or any future state assessment conducted in New Jersey.”

Following media reports indicating the commissioner’s suggestion of withholding state aid, Senator Gill, who represents the 34th legislative district including Montclair, sprung into action by sending a letter to Education Commissioner Hespe seeking clarification on his statement.

In response, Gill stated that the commissioner confirmed he wished for the department to retain the right to withhold funding based on student participation in standardized tests.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 60-15-3. It was approved in the Senate by a vote of 31-7.

The law takes effect immediately.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer issued this statement following the enactment of two NJEA-supported laws earlier today that help protect students from overly intrusive standardized testing in New Jersey.  P.L.2015, c.134, prohibits administration of standardized assessments in kindergarten through second grade, while P.L.2015, c.157, prohibits withholding of state school aid based on student participation rates on state assessments.

“Students, parents and educators are the winners today.  These new laws give our youngest students an important new protection from inappropriate high-stakes testing and ensure that taxpayers and schools aren’t penalized when parents exercise their right to refuse that testing for their older children.

“Parents left no doubt last spring that they are very concerned about the harmful effects of standardized testing.  Instead of listening to those concerns, the New Jersey Department of Education initially threatened to penalize schools where parents exercised their right to refuse those harmful tests. The law signed today ensures that parents won’t be threatened with the withholding of their own tax dollars when they do what they believe is right for their children.

“We are also encouraged to know that our youngest students are now better protected from the encroachment of high-stakes testing. Ultimately, we need to reduce the amount of testing in the higher grades as well. The PARCC testing window has already been shortened for the coming year, and we will continue to advocate for common-sense changes like grade-span testing with lower stakes.

“Educators and parents are united in their determination to free our schools from the grip of testing mania.  Today, we took two important steps forward.  These victories only strengthen our determination to keep fighting for our children.”