Adverse consequences for school districts when students opt out of PARCC

Opinion by Superintendent Brian Zychowski in the Star-Ledger


 Recently, the New Jersey Department of Education reported that three to 15 percent of students—depending on the grade—refused to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), administered for the first time this spring in place of NJASK and HSPA. Critics of PARCC are calling this effort to "opt out" of the tests a victory. Furthermore, they hope additional students will continue the trend during the "End of Year" administration of PARCC in May. However, we're now beginning to see the consequences of not participating, and they're not good.

Education Commissioner David Hespe and Gov. Chris Christie reiterated their earlier assertion: schools with less than 95 percent student participation in the PARCC assessments will be placed on a corrective action plan, and schools with significant refusal rates could have state and federal funding withheld. This is the same message that the NJDOE, many teachers and school principals have articulated since the commencement of the 2014-15 school year. Unfortunately, other voices have sent mixed messages that have misled parents and the public.

We've always known that end-of-year assessments are beneficial to students—allowing teachers and administrators to evaluate and improve student learning more accurately while assisting parents with their children's progress. Now many are coming to realize that assessments are also important for securing services for students through state and federal school funding. 

Fortunately, it's not too late to act.

First and foremost, students who have taken the first part of the PARCC assessment should absolutely take the second. Should additional students "opt out" of the May test—even if they completed April's assessment—their participation will not count toward the 95 percent completion rate. 

Second, it's essential that parents are accurately informed about the benefits of the PARCC assessments for their children. Parents need facts, not distortion. Fact: There's real evidence that the new assessments, coupled with higher standards, are increasing and ensuring academic rigor. Fact: Taking tests is a part of life, and students will be assessed well beyond their educational journey. Fact: The consequences of refusing to take the PARCC are real. Students benefit from well-funded schools that offer resources because of local and federal support. These resources will be—and may already be—in jeopardy because of a small, vocal group whose interests are not reflective of preparing students for their future in a competitive global environment.

Districts throughout the state worked vigorously to inform parents and students despite a well-financed campaign that enhanced confusion and apprehension, which are commonplace with new assessments. Additionally, groups like WeRaiseNJ have formed to provide resources for parents on PARCC, standards and assessments. 

The silver lining in the commissioner's statements is the indication that districts with high rates of PARCC participation won't suffer grave ramifications. This is reassuring news for the schools that need services and support most—the schools in under-resourced districts where, not surprisingly, families embraced the PARCC as a valuable resource for academic development. 

An annual assessment is only one of multiple measures to provide objective feedback on student achievement and progress. Refusing to participate in any of the aforementioned measures denies parents and students the crucial feedback to monitor academic growth relative to national, state and local standards. When student resources and learning experiences are compromised, it is no longer a debate but rather a non-negotiable consequence. 

Brian Zychowski, Ed.D., is superintendent of North Brunswick schools and the president of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. 

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