By Mark Rosman
Two bills dealing with issues in New Jersey’s schools have been signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. The signing of the bills was reported in a press release issued by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which represents many of the state’s teachers.
According to the NJEA, one new law prohibits the administration of standardized assessments in kindergarten through second grade.
Additional information about the bills was provided by the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), which represents the state’s school boards.
Specifically, A-3079/S-2766 provides that a school district may not administer a commercially developed standardized assessment to students in kindergarten through the second grade.
Under this law, a commercially developed standardized assessment will not include diagnostic and formative assessments used by teaching staff members to identify particular student learning needs or the need for special services, or to modify instructional strategies for an individual student’s learning. A classroom teacher is not precluded from developing, administering and scoring an assessment for students in those grades. The new law takes effect at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
The second law prohibits the withholding of state school aid based on student participation rates on state assessments.
Specifically, A-4485/S-2881 prohibits the education commissioner from withholding state school aid from a school district based on the participation rate of its students on the state assessments. This bill addresses the concern that school districts could face financial sanctions if too many students do not participate in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. This new law would essentially prevent districts from being penalized for matters beyond their control. It took effect upon its enactment into law.
Both issues have been on the minds of parents, school board members and school district administrators in the past year, specifically in regard to the administration of the PARCC exam to New Jersey children.
Many parents throughout New Jersey refused to allow their children to take the PARCC exam. A state education official subsequently said that state aid could be withheld from school districts if a certain number of students did not sit for the test.
A representative of the NJSBA said the organization supported both bills. The spokeswoman said there is currently no requirement for assessments in K-2. She said the NJSBA supported the second bill because it does not believe school districts should be penalized for something they could not control — parents refusing to allow their children to take certain tests.
After Christie signed the bills into law, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said, “Students, parents and educators are the winners today. These new laws give our youngest students an important new protection from inappropriate high-stakes testing and ensure that taxpayers and schools are not penalized when parents exercise their right to refuse that testing for their older children.
“Parents left no doubt last spring that they are very concerned about the harmful effects of standardized testing. Instead of listening to those concerns, the New Jersey Department of Education initially threatened to penalize schools where parents exercised their right to refuse those harmful tests. The (new) law ensures that parents won’t be threatened with the withholding of their own tax dollars when they do what they believe is right for their children.
“We are also encouraged to know that our youngest students are now better protected from the encroachment of high-stakes testing. Ultimately, we need to reduce the amount of testing in the higher grades as well. The PARCC testing window has already been shortened for the coming year and we will continue to advocate for common sense changes like grade-span testing with lower stakes,” Steinhauer said.
David Saenz Jr., deputy press secretary with the New Jersey Department of Education, said, “The department supported the bills. New Jersey does not have statewide assessments for K-2. We have said all along that meeting the participation rate would not be the sole determinant of possibly withholding any state aid.”