Thanks to PARCC opt-outs, N.J. schools could lose big bucks

Editorial by the Star-Ledger Editorial Board

04/17/15

What looks like a victory to some parents may soon backfire in their faces. The anti-PARCC hysteria that's torn through the Park Slopes of New Jersey could mean districts like Montclair will lose serious federal dollars. 

They were warned. If fewer than 95 percent of students who are supposed to take the test actually take it, a district won't be eligible for monetary awards for good performance. Yet while the opt-out rate was very low statewide, in Montclair, nearly 40 percent of students refused to take the test. 

Districts may have skirted by at 93 percent without losing federal dollars before, but 40 percent is an unprecedented level of opt-out.

Imagine if we could harness that activism for real issues, like fighting global poverty or closing the racial achievement gap. Instead, helicopter parents have made their district a top contender for losing federal school aid.

Much of the opposition to this test can be traced back to the teachers' union that resists every accountability measure, and aluminum-foil lefties who think PARCC is all part of some vast hedge fund conspiracy to take over public schools.

It is also rooted in parents who think they have the best schools in the world and don't want a test to tell them something different.

In truth, their schools may have some improving to do. Two "focus" schools in Montclair, for instance, are under close scrutiny because of their high achievement gaps between students. They may be unable to escape that designation and win monetary awards for improvement if enough students don't take this test.

Schools that are demonstrating the highest performance or growth may not be able to compete for extra reward money, either.

If the concern is over-testing, this is a bad place to draw a line. Eliminate some other exam, as districts have done with midterms and finals. The old NJASK test that PARCC replaces was of little use. Now that we finally have a better assessment tool, we decide to cry 'testing fatigue'?

The PARCC evaluates analytical skills in a much deeper way. It requires students to understand a complex piece of text, interpret it and cite evidence for their answers. You can't just guess the answer to a math question, you have to show your work and the underlying logic behind it.

And here's what gets lost in "My kid is more than a test score": By opting out, parents are making themselves entirely dependent on the data that teachers and schools provide them. Even in the same subject in the same building, different teachers grade differently and have different standards. The PARCC can provide transparency.

Do you buy electronics based solely on what Sony says? Or would you rather check Consumer Reports?

We owe it to our kids to evaluate schools and educators, too.

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