The largest teachers union in New Jersey has launched an aggressive six-week ad campaign against the state’s new Common Core-aligned standardized tests, just weeks before those same teachers are supposed to start administering the tests to their students.
The campaign’s timing could fuel the burgeoning movement among parents in the state to have their children opt out of tests entirely.
New Jersey is one of 10 states participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium that has crafted a set of Common Core-based exams that will allow member states to directly compare the performance of their students on the shared standards.
While supporters say the new tests, which will begin in New Jersey in March, will be more rigorous and provide better data about student academic gains, the New Jersey Education Association believes that far too much is riding on an imperfect exam, and now it’s bankrolling a big ad campaign to convince parents of the same.
The campaign’s four different ads feature the testimony of various parents and teachers in the state speaking about the toll taken by high-stakes testing on children.
“My first grader came home the other day and cried because he didn’t feel like going to karate practice,” one father says in an ad. “In first grade! What are we doing?”
Another parent suggests that standardized tests are for the most part pointless, adding little new information.
“What am I going to learn from my child from this test that my teacher can’t tell me right now?” she asks.
The ads direct viewers to a website that touts three bills currently before the New Jersey legislature: One would ban almost all standardized tests for any students in the second grade or below, another would impose a moratorium on using PARCC to evaluate teachers and schools, and a third would explicitly give parents the right to opt out of tests entirely.
In New Jersey, administering the PARCC exam is mandatory, but the state has no clear law on whether parents can have their children opt out of them. However, even without the law, several school districts have decided that students will be allowed to skip the tests.
Opting out of Common Core tests is an approach favored by some of the standards’ harshest critics. Last summer, for example, radio host Glenn Beck encouraged parents during a nationally broadcast town hall event to refuse to take any tests aligned with Common Core. While there have been a few instances around the country of small groups of teachers endorsing test boycotts, this appears to be the first time a statewide union has so closely identified with the movement. (RELATED: Glenn Beck’s Anti-Common Core Crusade Seeks Test Boycott)
“Parents are fed up, and they’re ready to speak up,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer in a statement. “This ad campaign gives parents and teachers a voice in a debate that’s been dominated for too long by people with no connection to what’s really happening in classrooms today.”
Opponents argue that widespread boycotts could imperil federal funding for some New Jersey schools, as No Child Left Behind requires that at least 95 percent of students at a school take state tests. However, the federal government has never punished a school for having too many students boycott, and New Jersey has a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind, meaning that only the bottom 5 percent of its schools are at risk of any significant federal sanctions.
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