New Jersey does not have a statewide regulation for how to handle students who opt out of taking standardized tests like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. The chairman of the Assembly Education Committee said that is unacceptable.

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"We have to have an understandable, fair, statewide policy," said Assemblyman Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield). "It's not brain surgery to come up with policies so the kids can continue to learn and enhance their learning while others are taking the tests."

Diegnan is a primary sponsor of legislation that would require schools to provide educationally appropriate alternative activities for a student who refuses to take the PARCC test. Under the bill, if a student's regularly scheduled class is in session during the PARCC exam the student would be allowed to attend that class. The full Assembly unanimously approved the measure in late March.

Diegnan said there is at least one idea for dealing with kids who opt out of the test.

"If a teacher is out sick you have a substitute teacher. So, you have a couple of substitute teachers come in that day and have some alternate courses that would be offered. The sit-and-stare (policy) and putting kids in a gym and showing them a video, I mean that's just ridiculous," Diegnan said.

At a legislative hearing in March, Education Commissioner David Hespe said school districts have been dealing with "parental refusal for decades." He said that is why there is not a statewide policy.

"State law and regulations require all students to take state assessments. We encourage all chief school administrators to review the district's discipline and attendance policies to ensure that they address situations that may arise during days that statewide assessments, such as PARCC, are being administered," Hespe said in a memo that was issued on Oct. 30, 2014.

The education department is currently reviewing how districts handled kids who opted out and will offer suggestions once the review is completed.

On April 22, Hespe told the Assembly Budget Committee that between 3 to 14 percent of the state's public school student have opted out of PARCC. He said about 3 percent of elementary school students opted not to take the test, 7 percent of 9th- and 10th-graders did not take it and about 14 percent of 11th-graders opted out. Juniors opted out at a higher rate in part because the test is not a graduation requirement, Hespe said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.




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