Then, just weeks before the March segment of the PARCC, the NJEA, New Jersey’s largest teachers union, aired a series of widely viewed television commercials that denounced the exam. One ad features a middle-aged dad with a goatee telling a group of fellow parents that his first-grader cried when he came home from school, apparently too tired to go to karate practice. The goateed dad despairs, "What are we doing to our kids?"
The advocacy continued after the test, too, when the NJEA compiled a spreadsheet of each town’s alleged refusals numbers that was based on information in local newspapers, at least one of which affirmed that union's figures corresponded with its own reporting. Still, Mike Yaple, the spokesman for the state Department of Education, said he could not comment on the "accuracy of another organization’s list," and a number of other towns' papers cited slightly different statistics than those contained in the spreadsheet.
Exact figures aside, the students themselves have been largely responsible for the opt-out surge—the rallying among adults is just part of the picture. As kids saw their peers get permission to opt out of the exam, many of them urged their parents to exempt them, too. After all, how many children actually want to take an exam—particularly one that doesn’t leave a mark on their report cards? And when the choice is between algebra questions and a few extra hours of sleep, predicting how students will respond is a no-brainer. Even my kid was in on the action.
Indeed, my 15-year-old son used every weapon in his teenage arsenal—eye rolls, deep sighs, guilt-tripping, and even logic—to pressure my husband and me to write a letter to the school opting him out of the test. None of his friends were taking it, he reasoned; it wouldn’t be fair if he had to stress out about boring math problems while his friends were eating bagels in town—and gleefully texting him about their fun morning. His classmates, he added, would be better prepared for their afternoon exams or classwork (which actually count) because they would be well-rested and have two extra hours to prepare for them. He rightfully pointed out that the PARCC was not required for graduation.
While my son did ultimately take the PARCC exam, other students were more successful in pressuring their parents. Many of the students who couldn't get waivers took to Twitter to express their annoyance, tweeting things like, "PARCC spelled backwards is CCRAP." Some reportedly filled in their answer sheets with gibberish. Though the opt-out campaign began as a parent protest, in some ways it developed into a student-led movement.
State officials and district administrators, education advocacy groups and test proponents appeared completely unprepared for the protests in New Jersey and elsewhere. Schools scrambled to find separate rooms and teachers so that they could monitor both test takers and non-test takers (assuming the latter weren’t off somewhere eating bagels). Some schools were said to tell parents that the non-testing children should stay at home during the exam. Districts across the country embroiled in opt-out movements had to develop policies on the fly in a few short weeks before test day; some are still trying to come up with a game plan.