- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Between 3 and 14 percent of the state’s public school students have opted out of a newly implemented standardized test, New Jersey’s top education official said Wednesday.

Education Commissioner David Hespe told lawmakers during the Assembly Budget Committee hearing the “big takeaway,” though, was that 98 percent of test-takers completed the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam on computers. The test was first administered this year beginning last month.

The test has generated opposition, with critics arguing that preparing students for the tests cuts into classroom time, and with many parents saying they planned to prevent their children from taking the exam. PARCC has also been the subject of a number of legislative hearings, and last month the Assembly passed a bill requiring the state’s 581 school districts to accommodate students not taking the test.

Hespe said Wednesday that opting out of standardized test-taking is not a new issue.

Hespe told the panel Wednesday that 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 figures are preliminary and final numbers are expected after the test wraps up in May.

Lawmakers raised other concerns about the test.

Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon worried that if fewer than 95 percent of the state’s students participated, then New Jersey could lose federal funding. Hespe responded that schools failing to meet that threshold would enact a corrective plan and that the federal government would consider other factors, such as whether the school had a history of falling below the level. There is no “trigger,” he said.

McKeon also asked whether data on students procured from the exams by Pearson, the company that administers PARCC, could be sold back to schools.

“That will not happen,” Hespe said, adding that the state owns that information.

New Jersey inked a $108 million, four-year contract with Pearson.

Lawmakers also raised concerns on other aspects of Gov. Chris Christie’s $13.7 billion education budget request for next fiscal year, including why aid to nonpublic schools for nursing and technology was being cut.

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