Superintendent Responds To Criticism Over ‘Disruptive’ PARCC Letter

Roselle Park School District Superintendent Pedro Garrido addressed criticism by some parents about the use of the word “disruptive” in a letter the district sent out regarding PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing. Starting this year, PARCC officially replaced the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) and HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment) tests. These were the standardized tests given to all New Jersey public school students in grades 3-8 and 11 which was administered by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJ DOE) and used to assess student performance in New Jersey’s public school districts.

In response to some parents refusing to have their children take the PARCC test, which is being administered this month, by ‘opting-out’, Mr. Garrido started his comments by addressing that first. He stated, “First of all, the state of New Jersey does not recognize opting out of PARCC.”

The school superintendent explained that the district is obligated by law to follow the directives of NJDOE and that is the reason the letter was sent out stating that any student who refuses to take the PARCC Assessments on the day of testing will be considered disruptive. That language, according to Mr. Garrido, was taken from the testing manual and it was the same for NJ-ASK.

“Whether I agree with the PARCC test or not,” Mr. Garrido stated, “The state requires every district to test students. Statewide assessment is the same as districts having a curriculum or districts having certain programs. If we do not have it, we will lose funding from state department and from the federal Department Of Education so we must abide by their laws and their directives.”

Responding to what he termed ‘a few requests in writing from parents that they would like their child not to take the test’, Mr. Garrido addressing the word itself by stating, “It’s not a word we would like to use because we understand that the child is not making this decision in some cases, it is the parents.”

Mr. Garrido went on to outline a set of procedures for those students who might refuse to take the test. He read, “When a parent or guardian informs in writing that their child will not participate in testing, the student will enter the room and sit for further instruction from the proctor. Every classroom that is being tested has a proctor. The student will not need to further refuse to take the test, the letter will suffice. They do not have to say ‘I am refusing. I do not want to take the test’.”

It was relayed to those in the audience that the testing proctor would then follow the procedures from the testing manual which would require that the student be asked or escorted to an alternative location where wither an alternative assignment will be given or they will be allowed to read books of their choice if they bring books to read. When that occurs, an Irregularity Report will be filed with the state. Mr. Garrido remarked, “We do not have a choice. It’s the law. It’s what the DOE requires us to do.”

If a student comes in on the day of testing without a letter from the parent or guardian, the school will notify the parent or guardian of the refusal. A representative from the respective school will call the parents to let them know that the child is refusing and the parent will be asked to send something in writing consenting to the student’s refusal. If contact cannot be made, the student will be removed and will then be given an opportunity to participate in the make up test. The school superintendent reiterated, “If we receive a letter in writing from the parent that they do not want the child to take the [make-up] test, then, once again, they will be removed from the make-up testing and will be returned to class for normal activities. Those are the procedures. Again we cannot recognize opting out.”

The school superintendent said that state aid, around $10 million, would be taken way from the district if it do not meet 95% participation rate for the assessment. Mr. Garrido detailed, “If that should happen, we will lose programs, we will lose teachers, we will lose many things that the children need now to continue making progress. I’ve been in education for a long time and we’ve seen statewide testing since the 1970s. I’ve seen the NJ-ASK testing come into play back in 2001. There was anxiety at that moment almost the same as it is today with PARCC. I, for one, had my reservations about the NJ-ASK and the No Child Left Behind law because it was flowed in some ways.”

Mr. Garrido spoke on how the New Jersey Assembly passed Bill A4190 which would postpone the impact of PARCC results for three years including that it would not count for things such as student placement, acceptance to a Gifted & Talented program, graduation, or teacher evaluation.

“So, you as parents know what’s best for your child and I respect that. I really would like parents to reconsider not having the child take the test,” Mr. Garrido concluded, “Again, in my heart I don’t think that the test is going to be harmful. Maybe we do not believe that the whole entire Common Core and the test may be taking too much time away from instruction. That’s something that we need to address with the state and make sure that it’s corrected. But, again, I really feel that down the line we’re going to improve teaching and learning based on the Common Core and the assessment . . . And again to the parents, you know, we do have multiple measures and PARCC is just one of them. We don’t use that to make decisions about everything. We know the value of being in the classroom and the instruction from the teacher. We know the value of teacher-made tests. We know the value of benchmark assessments. We know the value of students’ responses. We take all that and we pull in multiple measures to make good, sound, meaningful decisions for your children.”

The next BOE meeting is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, March 10th at Sherman Elementary School at 7 p.m. but depending on when the state releases its state aid figures for school districts, the meeting might be pushed to March 17th.