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Opt-Out Resolution From N.J. Senate Seeks End to 'Sit and Stare' Policies

Cross-posted from the K-12 Parents and the Public blog

By Karla Scoon Reid

New Jersey lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution last week requesting that state education department officials draft rules outlining how school districts should accommodate students who refuse standardized testing.

According to the Senate resolution, the guidelines would also prohibit school districts from punishing students and families who choose to opt out of testing, including the controversial practice of requiring students to "sit and stare" in silence in testing rooms while their classmates take the assessments.

The resolution, which passed by voice vote on July 23, asks the education department to develop the guidelines by Sept. 1 to allow school boards time to adopt new policies to meet the needs of those students refusing to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam.

Preliminary data cited in the resolution noted that in New Jersey this spring, 4 percent of elementary school students, 7 percent of 9th grade students, and almost 15 percent of 11th grade students opted out of PARCC exams, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Opt-out supporters, both nationally and in New Jersey, have pressed lawmakers to adopt legislation that would clearly stipulate parents' rights regarding test refusal. Anti-testing advocates, however, are pressing politicians to scrap standardized testing and the common core altogether.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have considered bills to repeal the common core. Meanwhile, a report issued by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States found that California and Utah are the only two states with laws allowing parents to opt their children out of state assessments. 

Democratic state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the New Jersey resolution's chief sponsor, told NJ Spotlight, that lawmakers wanted to give the state education department some discretion in establishing the guidelines. She said in the story that the Senate would not likely pursue a bill addressing opt-out rules.

"The key here is we keep moving forward," Ruiz said. "This puts steps [for opting out] in place, without a binding statute where we can't have some flexibility."

But state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., a Democrat who was the lead sponsor of the Assembly opt-out bill, told NJ Spotlight that he believed passing a law would have been a more effective way to resolve test-refusal disputes in the state.

Susan Cauldwell, executive director of Save Our Schools New Jersey, a grassroots education advocacy group, agreed with Diegnan. She said she has no confidence that the education department will address the needs of families who refuse testing.

"The [department] has a poor track record when it comes to being sensitive to the needs of students and the concerns of parents [opting out]," Cauldwell, said in the story. 


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