Montclair Schools In Statewide Spotlight Thanks to MEA/MCAS Activism – And Not in a Good Way

Our schools in Montclair are getting some attention in the Star Ledger this morning. And not in a good way.

The paper’s editorial board blasted activist and union opt-out efforts and singled out Montclair for it’s extraordinarily high opt-out rate:

What looks like a victory to some parents may soon backfire in their faces. The anti-PARCC hysteria that’s torn through the Park Slopes of New Jersey could mean districts like Montclair will lose serious federal dollars.

They were warned. If fewer than 95 percent of students who are supposed to take the test actually take it, a district won’t be eligible for monetary awards for good performance. Yet while the opt-out rate was very low statewide, in Montclair, nearly 40 percent of students refused to take the test.

We’ve obviously been paying close attention to the opt-out efforts, but haven’t written extensively on it while we waited for further information – like how prevalent these efforts were statewide. Well, now we have that information, and the answer is not very. But here in Montclair, the numbers are extremely, shockingly, and almost impossibly high. While statewide opt-out rates were about 7%, here in Montclair they were over 40%. And, as the final numbers showed, there was pretty substantial variation between different schools. While Watchung had a 7.5% opt-out rate, Bullock had a 43.5% opt-out rate. Montclair HS had an opt-out rate of 68.1% – more than four times the statewide high school opt-out rate of 14.5. As any stats person would tell you, that’s not a fluke. A difference like that doesn’t happen accidentally.

As the editorial notes, this is the result of extensive efforts by the teachers’ union and activists. But we don’t draw much of a separation here in Montclair – MCAS led the activist push, and as their founder has admitted, they’re just a proxy for the organizing efforts of the teacher union. The fact that there are such extreme variations between schools – and the opt-out rate was so much higher than statewide levels – leads us to one conclusion: in some schools in Montclair, teachers pushed their classes to opt-out. We’ve heard some rumors to this effect (i.e. a high school teacher telling their class that they didn’t have to opt-out, but if they took the test they’d miss learning important material that would be on their real tests) but don’t have any conclusive proof of that. If you do have stories about this sort of thing, please send them to us, as we think it’s extremely important that this sort of information be shared. These numbers simply defy probability and are impossible to imagine without something being done to make them happen. And if there were teachers pushing their classes to opt-out, that would be illegal, and needs to be investigated.

The editorial raised another point that we also think is important in a basic way – this opt out push is not the answer. It’s not about kids and it’s not about better education. As the editorial notes,

If the concern is over-testing, this is a bad place to draw a line. Eliminate some other exam, as districts have done with midterms and finals. The old NJASK test that PARCC replaces was of little use. Now that we finally have a better assessment tool, we decide to cry ‘testing fatigue’?

The PARCC evaluates analytical skills in a much deeper way. It requires students to understand a complex piece of text, interpret it and cite evidence for their answers. You can’t just guess the answer to a math question, you have to show your work and the underlying logic behind it.

The fact is that this push is about sabotaging the tests so that they can’t be used to evaluate teachers and part of a national push by teacher unions to do that. We’ve said time and time again that this isn’t about improving education for the kids in Montclair, it’s about a national political agenda that doesn’t serve our kids well. As our Deputy Mayor and AFT Vice President Robert Russo noted, this is about them “fighting a national battle” – not about our kids. In fact, that political battle comes at the expense of our kids, by risking funding for our schools.

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