Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Jersey Admins Have Lost It - Updated!

I've been watching in horror as the PARCC testing "season" began in New Jersey last week. I am unabashedly in the Opt Out corner. Oh, sorry, forgot, this is New Jersey, where we play word games. "Refuse" was the word of choice last year, as opting out is not "allowed." This year "refusing" is getting kicked back to parents too. NJDOE has been in full spin mode for several months and we know the districts with the highest refusals rates from last year have caught an earful. 

First, though, let's be crystal clear about something. When a parent opts out /refuses /insert your choice of it's-never-going-to-happen here, they are NOT asking for anyone's permission. They are very simply informing you of what they are choosing for their child. You are expected to respect that decision. End of story.

Parents aren't opting out because the test is hard. Amazingly, that insipid thought is still floating around and a "news" source published it (I refuse to link to the NYPost. Go Google that hot mess of "journalism" if you must.). They. We. I. Am doing it because public education has become a marketplace for the next best shiny, never-been-tested, device, curriculum, test, insert latest crap your local board of ed got suckered into buying...Chromebooks anyone? None of which has anything to do with educating our children. 

Leading up to the testing window, there were stories of stupid stuff...reward parties, bids for prom, getting out of taking the English final exam, the cheer on PARCC videos...demonstrating the level of desperate these people have sunk. 

Once the testing started, truly awful stories started pouring in, and continue to this week, about how districts were handling students whose parents refused PARCC. You really have to wonder what is going on inside the heads of these teachers, principals, superintendents, and county superintendents. 

I wonder if they have thought about the real damage done to the trust that any really good school must have with its students and parents. Listen carefully, hurting children is not going to get you that trust. You're going to lose it immediately, and there will be nothing you can do to get it back. 

The first completely crazy story came from a mom whose elementary school-aged children were made to sit in the main office during testing, along with a few other students. She kept her kids home during the scheduled morning testing window. Unfortunately, there were "unforeseen" technical issues (gee, shocking) and so the school administered the test later in the day.
For 130 minutes..."they were NOT allowed to read a book under any circumstances because they would "disturb other people if they read a book". They were also NOT allowed to lean back in their chairs- they could only sit straight up and not move at all for two hours! My son's back was sore after this cruel and unnecessary punishment! Additionally, they were only allowed to look ahead, they could not turn their heads to the left or to the right, because this is what elementary school children are supposed to do: sit straight up and not move a muscle or make a sound for two hours, just like little soldiers! My daughter "got in trouble" for attempting to tie her hair back in a pony tail! Another kid was yelled at for looking at a monitor screen (the ones showing the visitors by the front entrance). My kids were so traumatized by this experience, I feel like crying right now! I just got finished writing and sending an email to our superintendent describing today's events and asking why our children were treated in such an unnecessarily cruel way, as if they were criminal offenders, just because my husband and I chose to exercise our parental rights to refuse a test for them we believe is fundamentally wrong!"
She and another mom met with the superintendent the next morning. He was clearly prepared and had contacted his county superintendent seeking support for his poor judgment. He did not think the way the children were treated was wrong. He told the moms the children "were not his problem" since they weren't testing. And, declared that next year he would not accept any refusals at all (good luck with that). 

By the end of the discussion, he did apologize and promised that his staff would have clearer instructions on how to handle the children. Not much of an apology. Leaves me wondering what kind of place this is if staff at an elementary school don't know how to act in a humane way towards children.

I also wonder if this superintendent knows those children can't sleep at night. Are now afraid to go to school. I wonder if he realized one of those other students made to sit there for two hours is a special ed student with an IEP. And that particular student missed their speech lesson while sitting in the office, not being allowed to move or speak. 

In another district, a special ed student with anxiety was made to take the test even after the parent had refused. The school pulled the student aside and told her if she refused to take the test, she would have lunch detention, and if she stayed home during testing, she wouldn't move up to the next grade. Under duress, of course, she took the damned test. 

When the mom asked why her refusal was ignored, she was told that because "testing skills" is in her child's IEP, so she had to take PARCC. (I call bullshit.)

Let's just process that for a sec. A parent refuses. The admin decides that some obscure reference to "testing skills" (whatever that is) in an IEP is reason to go against the specific wishes of a parent. And, they did that while bullying a student with a disability and anxiety. Seriously? Have you no shame? 

Did it ever occur to you to fight back? Parents, I promise, would have backed you up! 

Why is this happening? Well, NJDOE and our State Board of Ed are incapable of admitting a mistake and have twisted themselves into knots in order to sell Common Core State Standards and the aligned test, PARCC. They in turn have clearly put the screws to the districts.

Our legislature (really, the NJ Senate Education Committee) utterly failed us last year by not putting the bill in front of the governor that would have protected our children from this nonsense.

This whole mess is an abject failure in leadership. Time to clean house. 

Edited to add: A little while ago, a mom got in touch with me about her 9th grade son's experience. Mom had turned in her refusal to the district superintendent two weeks before PARCC began. It was acknowledged and her son was told to bring a book, he would be sitting in the testing room, but would be allowed to read. 
Day one came along, "he came prepared to do so Monday morning, only to find the admin plop a chrome book down in front of him. He said "I'm not supposed to take the test, My mom sent in a refusal letter" and the teacher completely ignored him. He raised his hand and said it again, this time to have a proctor say "that's not how it works." At that point he was feeling totally defeated and intimidated, so he went ahead and took the test. He was so upset when he got home. He said he was actually afraid to say or do anything further for fear of getting in trouble. Frankly, 2 days later I'm still speechless."

19 April 2016 Edited to add: The crazy continues. This time a student getting detention for attending her regularly scheduled classes. From the mom:
We had refused PARCC and received a letter from her principal, XXX, confirming her refusal. On March 23, 2016 a letter posted to the school website stating "Our test schedule has been designed to minimize disruption to the normal school day. Students in these classes have been assigned to a testing cohort and room and will be required to remain with their cohort through the conclusion of each test session. Students not enrolled in these classes will attend full school days throughout the testing window."
PARCC testing began yesterday. She attended all her regularly scheduled classes without a problem. TODAY, during Math class, they were doing a review of the benchmark assessment test when one of the teachers, XXX, pulled my daughter out of class and told her she needed to go sit in the library instead.
My daughter said didn't understand why she has to go to the library. Ms. XXX called the principal, XXX, down to the library and he told my daughter that she was supposed to be in the library because she refused the PARCC. He said she shouldn't have gone to her regular class and it was considered 'cutting class'. Therefore, he is sending a note home to me explaining that she has a 3 day after school detention she needs to complete as disciplinary action(emphasis mine)
I find it ironic that all of this happened on the tails of me receiving a letter of accolades (along with a voucher for a free ice cream at Applebees) for my daughter on making the Honor Roll.
Way to go WMC for building her up before you tear her down.(insert sarcastic tone here...)....ummmm....sooooo...tell me again about your Harassment/ Intimidation/ Bullying policy XXX High School?I've left a voicemail for XXX informing him that I will be in first thing tomorrow morning to discuss this. #ToBeContinued...

In a district where a personal friend's daughter attends, a teacher decided to call out every student in her (honors) math class who is refusing PARCC. She told them if the still refused come the first day of testing, they would be made to sit and stare at a wall. She further belittled their parents' choice by snidely remarking "good luck" in attending college if they didn't take the test. And, a final remark about how students in another class aren't as smart as they are and she expected them not to take the test. 

Needless to say, my friend is really angry about that exchange with her daughter and her classmates. The trust I mentioned above is now gone. Initially, her daughter didn't want my friend intervening and asked to take the test. My friend, bless her, spoke with her daughter about doing the right thing, about not acquiescing to bullies. Upon reflection, and armed with accurate information about the test, her daughter is very angry too. Good luck to that teacher getting her trust back. 

I'll close out this post with an example of how districts should be handling opt outs/refusals. When a parent sends in a note informing the school administrator their child will not be taking PARCC, the response should be, thank you for letting us know your decision. We will provide an alternate setting and allow your child to work on homework or read a book. If you should decide to bring your child in late/after testing is done for the day, they will not be marked absent or late. That's it. It's really simple.

Here's an example of how that worked in one district:

Wanted to share my experience from today. We have moved to a new school in a whole new district just recently and learned that the Refusal movement didn't take off in our new school. I found out after asking around that not a single student in this school refuses testing. I mentioned twice to the teachers and very little response just "okay". My daughter has mentioned to the teacher that she doesn't participate in PARCC testing during practice tests and it was met with "okay". After all of that I was a bit nervous of how they would handle it considering that she would be the only student refusing but after going to the school in the morning and a brief talk with the principal he said no problem just email me your letter and [my child] will be able to spend testing time in the Library. I asked if I should send the email elsewhere too and he said no just him and he would take care of it. As nervous as I was about how this would unfold I must say her principal handled it so well and did not make her feel any bit uncomfortable or like the "bad kid" that we had dealt with in our previous school.
I am very pleased this year how this has turned out so far.

Last year, NJ Senator Ruiz decided to only pass a resolution (SR137) against bad behavior by districts, but it was very clear: 
The Commissioner of Education is urged to develop guidelines by September 1, 2015 that identify a range of appropriate policies  that may be adopted by a school district when considering how students not participating in the Statewide assessment will be supervised and what, if any, alternate arrangements will be provided to them during the test administration. The guidelines should prohibit a school district from taking punitive action against a student including, but not limited to, the adoption of a sit and stare policy in response to the student’s refusal to participate in the Statewide assessment. (emphasis mine)  The guidelines should also address how and when the district’s policy will be communicated to parents, students, and school district staff.
Clearly, the resolution wasn't enough. 


  1. I'm in Colorado. My oldest is a third grader, so this is a new experience for us. She's an anxious child, and nothing makes her feel more nervous then being made to feel that she's doing something wrong. We were told students who opt out go to the library and read - a far better use of time in my opinion. But on day one, Monday, she was sent to the office. She was the only child opted out (which I can't believe. I live in a progressive area). I had sent her with new books, but we also agreed to write each other notes in a new notebook I bought her. Writing letters is also a valuable skill, in my opinion. She sat down, feeling uncomfortable because she was in the office and felt like she was in trouble. She then took out her notebook to read the note I had written her and write me back. It was promptly taken away from her, and she was told that 'drawing' wasn't allowed. She cried, silently, feeling even more so like she was being punished. When the testing session was over, the notebook was not returned to her. She was extremely upset about it, and luckily spoke with her teacher who sent her back to get the notebook. When she told me about it I was furious. I really love our school and did not make the assumption that this was done purposely to intimidate her. But the way she was treated felt so unfair. She's 8, and her mother made this decision. I should take the wrath, not her! After reading this, it makes me wonder whether there was some sort of planned attempt to intimidate. As soon as I heard about it, I was on the phone demanding that it not happen again. We have been writing our notes back and forth everyday since.

    1. I'm very sorry your daughter went through all of that. As you have read, she is not alone.

  2. I don't know the answer on this, I wonder if you know? Do charter schools in your area administer the PARCC tests? I'm wondering if they have latitude in that. Thanks in advance.

    1. Charter schools in NJ are required to administer the PARCC exams. Students can opt out/refuse.