Senate panel passes bills affecting standardized tests

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A ban on standardized tests in kindergarten through the second grade has come one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Education Committee on Monday passed a bill prohibiting such tests. The Assembly passed a similar bill unanimously in March.

It's the latest in a yearlong legislative push to address parent, educator and student concerns over the start of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, which began this year.

PARCC, the privately developed, computer-based test of math and language skills for elementary through high-schoolers, has become an often emotional lightning rod for some parents and their children. Critics question whether too much instruction time is being consumed with test preparation. Questions are raised about who's profiting from the commercially developed exams.

Parents and lawmakers are concerned the test could be given to kindergarteners, and first- and second-graders. Currently, third-graders are the youngest to take the test.

Eighth-grader Jessica Rodgers, who will start at South Brunswick High School in the fall, testified on Monday. She was critical of PARCC and said since she opted not to take the test, she was forced to read books on bridge-building, the evolution of apes and on fashion through the years rather than "To Kill a Mockingbird," which she was studying in literature class.

"I find it ironic that our district had us read books about building bridges when it is pretty clear neither the district nor our state government has attempted to do so with our parents," she said.

Others support the test and have said their children were enthusiastic about it. They also argue that some federal funding depends on implementing such standardized tests.

Education Commissioner David Hespe has said only 3 percent of elementary school students opted not to take the test and about 14 percent of 11th-graders decided not to take it, mostly because it was not a requirement to graduate.

The legislation passed Monday won't affect tests used by teachers to identify students' learning needs or for special services.

The education committee also approved a handful of other bills aimed at the test.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz said the legislation is the result of discussion with legislative leaders and stakeholders.

"We feel (they) are the best approach to keep New Jersey, its students, families and faculty moving forward," Ruiz said.

One measure prohibits withholding state aid based on a school's participation rate on standardized tests.

Other legislation requires the state provide parents with detailed information on which standardized tests to expect each year as well as a list of third-party vendors involved with the tests.

Another requires school districts to publish a list of students taking the PARCC.

Julia Sass Rubin, a parent critical of the tests, took aim at a resolution urging the education commissioner to write guidelines on how to deal with students who don't take the test.

"This is saying to the commissioner, 'whatever you want,'" she said. "It's very disturbing."

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