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N.J. Opt-Out Rates Low for Early Grades, Higher for Secondary Students

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Cross-posted from the State EdWatch blog.

High school juniors are opting out of New Jersey's PARCC assessment at a rate nearly three times that of their counterparts in elementary and middle school, according to a preliminary report from the New Jersey Department of Education about opt-outs.

According to a memo from state Commissioner David Hespe that was sent to district superintendents and other local K-12 leaders, there was a combined parental refusal rate for the PARCC exam of 14.5 percent of high school juniors. The refusal rate for students in grades 3-6 was 3.8 percent, while if you add in the 7th and 8th graders, the refusal rate for grades 3-8 is 4.6 percent. 

New Jersey has attracted a fair bit of media attention over the opt-out issue, along with New York, where state exams got started this week. One news outlet reported that 38 percent of students in the Montclair, N.J. district, for example, declined to take the PARCC test. However, generally, getting hard-and-fast numbers about opt-outs can be a difficult exercise. 

The numbers from the New Jersey department refer to "parental refusals" from the performance based assessment that began roughly six weeks ago in the state. Most New Jersey districts are due to start the end-of-year PARCC exam later this month.

The department stressed that the opt-out rates should not be used to infer total testing participation rates for districts, since the latter can include other reasons for absences from tests such as student illness. The opt-out rates I cited above refer to the 98 percent of PARCC exams administered on computers; 2 percent of the tests were paper-and-pencil exams, but opt-out rates for those tests were not available. 

In the memo, Hespe said that "in spite of predictions to the contrary," opt-out rates in the elementary grades were low, and that the higher opt-out rates in high school could be linked to the fact that students are not required to pass PARCC in order to graduate.

David Saenz, a spokesman for the New Jersey department, told Education Week that it's the first time the state has calculated such opt-out rates for state exams. He added that he expects those numbers to shift slightly as the department sorts through them further: "We just wanted to give the superintendents in the field some snapshot numbers."

Last month, the New Jersey Assembly approved legislation to require schools to formally accommodate students whose parents don't want them taking the exams, and sent it to the state Senate for consideration.

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