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September 29, 2016

New report sheds light on New Jersey’s 2015 opt-out movement

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Report finds 135,000 students, or up to 19% of those eligible, sat out 2015 standardized tests.

Media Contact: 

Bridget Goldhahn, Consortium for Policy Research in Education

bridgo@gse.upenn.edu | 215-573-0700x231

 Jeff Frantz, Penn Graduate School of Education

frantzj@gse.upenn.edu | 215-898-3269

Years of skepticism about school accountability reforms and standardized testing spilled over into large-scale testing boycotts in the spring of 2015. Students, parents, and advocates in New Jersey were at the forefront of this opt-out movement. A new report, from a team of researchers led by Jonathan Supovitz of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, examines which New Jersey students sat out tests, why, what impact the boycott had, and what the opt-out movement means for the future of testing in New Jersey and across the country.

 In The Bubble Bursts: The 2015 Opt-Out Movement in New Jersey, Supovitz and researchers from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education analyzed data from the New Jersey Department of Education. They found approximately 135,000 students didn’t take state assessments in the spring of 2015. Depending on how it’s calculated, that represents between 11 and 19 percent of eligible students in grades 3 through 11. The researchers also found that more affluent school districts were more likely to have higher opt-out rates. Opt out rates were progressively higher from elementary to middle to high schools in both English language arts and mathematics.

In New Jersey, the researchers found the opt-out movement brought together a loose coalition of parents, educators, advocates, and politicians, not all of whom shared the same reason for opposing the tests. Detailed interviewers with stakeholders from all sides of the debate revealed several factors behind the movement, including:

  • An accumulated skepticism with high-stakes testing in general and the new PARCC assessment in particular.
  • Concerns about the Common Core State Standards rollout.
  • Opposition from teachers unions about what they saw as premature teacher accountability measures.
  • Confusion in the messages of state policymakers about graduation requirements.

“The magnitude of the opt-out movement in New Jersey and nationally shows that there is real grass-roots concern with our current over-reliance on testing and accountability as a policy mechanism to press for educational improvement," said Supovitz. “We should expect to see a recalibration of the system of pressure and support as policymakers seek ways to redress this imbalance."  

 Supovitz and his research team are continuing to study accountability reforms, standardized testing, and the opt-out movement in New Jersey and nationally.

 About Consortium for Policy Research in EducationThe Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) contributes new, evidence-based knowledge to inform important decisions of education policy and practice. CPRE brings together education experts from renowned research institutions to contribute new knowledge that informs PK–20 educational policy and practice. Our work is peer-reviewed and open-access. CPRE’s member institutions are the University of Pennsylvania, Teachers College Columbia University, Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Northwestern University.

For more information, please visit: CPRE.org

 Note about copyright: Images from our website can be used for reporting on this project with the proper credit line to the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.