Some parents, teachers and the head of the New Jersey Education Association are expressing frustration and disappointment after a special commission appointed by Gov. Chris Christie announced a series of education recommendations about the PARCC test.

Practice PARCC test books (AP Photo/Ty Wright, File)

One recommendation calls for the test to become mandatory in 2020, with no opportunity for parents to let their children opt out. Also, beginning in 2021, students would have to pass PARCC in order to graduate high school.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said while this is only a recommendation, “I don’t agree that there should be a test that determines if you get to graduate, I think what we should have is a quality curriculum.”

He said when he was a teacher, he "didn’t need to give a standardized test to figure out if the kids knew the curriculum."

"I could tell when I was working with them and giving them quizzes then and there. I don’t think there’s one test you can say this is it for everybody and you need to know this to be successful," he said.

So why is this the wrong approach?

“They’re treating all kids as if they are the same kids, like we don’t teach Stepford students, there’s differences in all kids,” Steinhauer said. “There are geniuses in some areas and struggle in others. This PARCC test needs to go away and go away fast. It was clear they (the Commission) didn’t listen to parents, 50,000 parents took their kids out of this test to make a point, and I don’t think they really got that point.”

Susan Cauldwell, a Spring Lake resident and a member of  Save Our Schools New Jersey, pointed out  a federal law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – acknowledges a parent’s right to refuse a test.

“We are going to be pursuing legislation in the state to codify that for New Jersey residents,” she said. “So that the idea that you can’t get out of taking a test or your kid won’t graduate won’t be in effect in New Jersey – we think the commissioner is wrong.”

She also said that “hundreds of parents testified about the issue of high stakes standardized testing and told the Study Commission in no uncertain terms they didn’t agree with that and all that testimony was ignored."

"Many parents don’t believe this test is a real good measure of what students have learned, the game is basically rigged, there are a certain number of students that are going to fail this test no matter how well they score on it," Cauldwell said.

Cauldwell said PARCC takes time away from valuable resources, and not just in terms of money, but time as well.

"The narrowing of the curriculum to teach to this test, the incessant test prep that we see going on, not only in the testing grades, but in some districts in grades as low as kindergarten," she said, adding that parents want authentic learning and authentic assessment. “We want teachers in front of students teaching students, and students learning to be citizens of the world, not learning how to drag and drop on a computer the right answer into a computerized test bubble."

Kathleen Dalessio of Toms River, another Save Our Schools New Jersey member, said the recommendation to make PARCC mandatory is outrageous.

“To me it makes no sense, to me it’s a strong-arm measure to get people to take the test, they’re not really interested in them learning,” she said. “They’re just interested in them taking this test which just leads me to believe it’s all about money. It’s like trying to replace gold with silver, we had such a great educational system and it’s insane, it’s the stupidest thing, it’s redundant.”

In response to a request for comment, New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Mike Yaple said in a written statement the Every Student Succeeds Act does give states more flexibility to design their own assessment systems, but all states are still expected to assess students, and 95 percent of students are expected to be tested. These requirements haven’t changed for 15 years.

He also said the Study Commission has only issued recommendations, and there still will be an approval process that provides multiple opportunities for public comment

Yaple added New Jersey has had a test for many years that students took to graduate from high school (the High School Proficiency Assessment), and PARCC would replace that.

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