The chairman of the Assembly Education Committee said Monday that it is "not helpful" for state officials to threaten school districts with loss of aid over students opting out of testing under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The committee heard such a warning recently from Education Commissioner David Hespe and the theme was later echoed by Gov. Chris Christie during a town hall session.

A student takes the PARCC test
A student takes the PARCC test (CBS New York)

"I have to be honest. I'm disappointed by what appears to be an almost adversarial position that's been taken by the (Education) Department," said Assemblyman Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield). "It was not helpful for the commissioner to threaten withholding aid to towns in which parents decided to opt their kids out."

Federal rules allow the U.S. Department of Education to withhold funds if districts fail to have a 95 percent participation rate in standardized tests, like PARCC. New Jersey currently receives more than $900 million in federal aid.

"There very well might be repercussions if our participation is low," Hespe said at a Senate Education Committee hearing in March.

It is not good for the state if the education system becomes adversarial and antagonistic, Diegnan said. The second round of PARCC testing is underway this week.

"Threats will not work," Diegnan said. "We have to bring people on board with the exact same approach and if parents feel strongly that their kids should not take the test they should have the right to opt out."

The New Jersey Education Association also spoke out against Hespe's funding comments and the group's president went so far as to demand that the commissioner retract his statements.

"Threats and intimidation are utterly inappropriate," NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer wrote in an emailed press release. "The department needs to listen to parents, not threaten their children's schools. It should stop attacking parents with their own tax dollars."

On March 26, the full Assembly unanimously (72-0) approved a Diegnan-sponsored bill (A-4165) that would allow a parent or guardian to exclude their child from participating in certain standardized testing such as the PARCC exams. The NJ Senate has yet to act on its identical version of the legislation (S-2767).

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