SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – High school students will no longer have the option of "opting out" of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing starting with the Class of 2021.

The State Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday to make the controversial tests a mandatory requirement to graduate in New Jersey.

“Yesterday was the culmination of our deliberative process to implement an effective assessment that has been validated by numerous educators and researchers,” State Department of Education Spokesman David Saenz said in a statement. “We will work with districts to support students in continuing to make positive progress on the assessment. As the preliminary statewide data released on Tuesday shows, more students participated in each of the PARCC tests than the year before, signaling that parents and educators understand the value of the assessments in providing information that can improve their schools.”

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According to the resolution passed by the state board Wednesday, students entering eighth grade this fall will have to pass the PARCC language arts and Algebra I tests in order to get their state diplomas.

Students that “fail numerous attempts” to pass those exams can only graduate high school if they appeal to the state with a portfolio, according to the measure.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Gary McCartney said the district, which did send the DOE a letter asking that other alternatives like the ACT and SAT tests be used with PARCC as a graduation requirement, will do everything in its power to follow the new mandate and make sure students successfully complete the requirement.

“I think the more time we have (until 2021) to be prepared to make these kids successful, the more time we have to see that what we teach is being aligned to what is being tested, the more time we have to teach to the standards that are being measured, the better off our kids will be,” McCartney said. “I could have said that way back when PARCC was introduced. We are moving too quickly and what we really need is time for our teachers to make sure that they have a clear understanding of everything that is covered on that test.”

In what will be its third year in 2017, the PARCC battery of tests are administered in grades 3-8 and in high school.

Formed initially in 2010-2011 through a consortium of more than a dozen states, but now is only used by about six to assess how students are measuring up to the federal Common Core Standards.

Those national standards were developed in response to concerns by employers and institutions of higher learning that students nationwide graduated high school without the skills and proficiencies needed in college or the workplace, as well as low rankings of students compared to other countries throughout the world.

Education publisher Pearson won the bid nationally to develop the testing battery and computer software and systems used in its administration.

Teachers' unions and many parents, however, do not feel the test is appropriate and have concerns about the role and financial position Pearson has in the process.

As a result, education activist groups like Save Our Schools in New Jersey, have mounted campaigns for students, especially those in high school, to “opt-out” of the testing.

During the first year, almost half of juniors in South Brunswick and other schools in the region did not take the assessment.

The state made the district implement a “corrective action plan” to attempt to increase the number of students taking the test last year, which did work locally, flipping the numbers in the high school of those taking and not taking the test.

More than 200 some parents, teachers, educators and board of education members commented to the state board in opposition to the new mandate, including South Brunswick.

Local parent, Save Our Schools member and current Board of Education candidate, Lisa Rodgers said she was disappointed with the decision to make PARCC a graduation requirement.

“Despite opposition from parents, school board members, and teachers, the State Board of Education chose to endorse a graduation requirement that has been proven to be inappropriate,” Rodgers said Thursday. “Now the Education Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey have taken note that this decision violates state laws. The State Board of Education failed the students of this state. They proved that with a 6-0-1 vote, they are only following the wishes of Gov. Chris Christie and not the people.”

More than 120 SBHS students that chose to opt out the first year, juniors in 2015, found themselves needing to take and pass an additional test during their senior year in order to graduate.

McCartney said that he believes that time will assist both teachers and students to come together to ensure students have the “concepts, skills and standards” required to pass the exams and meet the rigorous academic challenges after high school.

“As we move to 2021, each year we are going to be better at making sure what is expected to be learned is taught,” he said. “We are hopeful that we are creating the right conditions for kids to learn.”

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