At this point, we know that Montclair’s opt-out rates are completely extraordinary compared to the rest of the state. But what about our neighboring districts?
A look at our neighbors shows that the opt-out trend is relatively unique to Montclair:
- Caldwell-West Caldwell: 220/2,650= 8.30%
- Bloomfield: 156/ 6,200 = 2.51%
- Belleville: 316/4,800= 6.58%
- Verona: 221/ 2,212= 9.99%
- South Orange/Maplewood: 143/ 4,514= 3%
In Clifton, a report indicated a few dozen students opted-out in grades 3 – 8 and about 200 in high school. Clifton High had an enrollment of 3,200 in 2012-13, and assuming that’s held relatively steady, that’s about a 6% opt-out rate – likely less overall given the low number of 3 – 8 opt-outs.
Statewide, roughly 15% of juniors opted-out, but only 4.6% of students in grades 3-8 had opted-out.
Montclair is definitely an outlier compared to other districts, including our neighbors, and it raises real questions about why.
The differences between these schools (with roughly similar populations), and the huge gap with the high school, suggests that something else is at play here. If parents across the district felt evenly about this, we’d expect to see relatively small gaps between high school and elementary school. The size of the gap indicates – to us – that high schoolers (who are more likely to be in a position to encourage their parents to allow them to opt out) were pushed to do so by their teachers.
We mentioned before that we’d heard rumors that opt-ing out was being pushed by teachers, especially at the high school level. This week, we received a tip from a concerned parent.
According to their email,
“I just found out that Mr Manos at MHS will be providing AP Exam prep for juniors in the AP US History class during PARCC testing tomorrow. As one of the few families that did not opt out of these exams, I feel we’re now being punished.”
We don’t know precisely what the rules are around this, but we know exactly what sort of incentives the teacher is creating here: the PARCC doesn’t count for anything for these kids at this point, the AP History exam is potentially worth thousands of dollars in college credit. So helping prep for the exam is putting those kids who are actually doing what they’re supposed to and taking the exam at a disadvantage. It’s sending a clear signal to them and their parents that they should be opting out, and – the parent who wrote in is right – it’s punishing the kids who are taking the test.
The district should investigate this, as should the media.
As we learn more, we’ll keep you posted. If you have other stories of similar situations around teachers pushing opt-outs or punishing students who elect to take the test, please share them with us. We promise to protect your anonymity.