Chicago Public Schools is seeking to delay the full implementation of a new standardized test until next year, though state education officials already told the head of the district “no” several months ago.
Parents who signed 1,175 petitions so far to “Park the PARCC” test (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) were delighted to learn they could have an ally in the district.
But in a July letter, the Illinois State Board of Education wrote that the state cannot jeopardize its federal funding for poor children by granting CPS an exception to the law requiring the test.
And yet Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told the Board of Education at their monthly meeting Wednesday that she still wants to delay the PARCC, which long has been scheduled to replace the Illinois Standard Achievement Test and Prairie State Achievement Exam statewide, and to limit its administration to just 10 percent of CPS students.
“The purpose of standardized assessments is to inform instruction,” Byrd-Bennett said. “At present, too many questions remain about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents, and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment strategies.”
During her first-ever impromptu press conference during the meeting, Byrd- Bennett said she had the backing of Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis in making sure standardized tests guided instruction.
And some principals who were part of last spring’s pilot testing told her that the PARCC took a long time to administer, which “really took away from valuable time the school would have used otherwise.”
Not all schools had the necessary computers and bandwidth to support the online version of the test, she told reporters.
Byrd-Bennett said she’s been in communication with the Illinois State Board of Education and plans to contact the U.S. Department of Education to “discuss the possibility and logistics of expanding our PARCC pilot period by one year as well as the number of schools in the pilot so that we have an opportunity to learn more about this important new assessment prior to full scale implementation across our district in future years.”
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey could not provide specifics of those communications.
Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the state board of education, said last spring’s round was not a pilot program. Rather, she said, it was a field test to try out the new formats.
CPS never was supposed to receive scores for the 10 schools who tried the PARCC to make sure it worked.
The state board already told Byrd-Bennett “No” in a letter dated July 25, saying PARCC meets legal requirements, and that while the state has some flexibility from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, “we do not have authority to grant your request.” The letter goes on to explain that the state board of education “must continue to administer ‘the same academic assessments’ to all children in English/Language Arts and Mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. This requirement has not changed, and we cannot jeopardize our Title 1 funding by noncompliance on this aspect of the law.”
Fergus said more than 110,000 students participated in PARCC field testing online and using pencil and paper in 1,200 schools over 500 districts statewide.
“Illinois is ready to administer this test to all public schools with 3rd through 8th graders and once during high school. Testing dates have been shared with districts and posted on our website for a few months and tests will soon be ordered for students across the state,” she said.
Parents behind a campaign to “Park the PARCC” gathered about 1,175 signatures in less than a week.
Pritzker Elementary School mom and Local School Council member Rachel Lessem said outside CPS headquarters that she took a PARCC practice test for third graders and was stumped.
She described it as “poorly written.”
Children at Pritzker are lucky to have a computer lab but have had to spend precious time learning “very specific skills for PARCC alone.”
“You have to figure out which button moves forward and which button moves backwards. The questions are not worded in a rigorous way, but in a tricky way,” she said. “Our principal is saying we need to spend time practicing. Parents are saying we need to spend some time practicing. What does it tell us about what our kids are learning in a classroom?”
Lessem isn’t sure her school has enough Internet bandwidth — or computers — to support the hundreds of children who’ll be tested.
She already opted her daughter out of the test.
Claire Wapole, who has two children at Waters Elementary and one in the academic center at Taft High School, worried about how children would react emotionally to a test she found confusing at best when she took a practice test.
“If it measured accurately what they knew I wouldn’t have a problem with this test, but all this measures is how well a kid can guess,” she said.