Parent group tells state superintendent to stop PARCC test

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A parent group delivered about 3,700 signatures on petitions against a new standardized test to the Illinois State Board of Education Friday, pleading for a year’s delay on the hours-long test they say isn’t ready and calling for a testing opt-out bill.

But despite growing opposition, the state superintendent plans to go forth with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC this spring.

Raise Your Hand director Wendy Katten called the 10-hour online test “dubious at best.”

“Why are we proceeding with the PARCC, a test still missing key components?” she asked. “Illinois is not ready for the PARCC and the PARCC is not ready for Illinois.”

“School boards and superintendents around Illinois have been asking you for help for months and have been ignored,” Katten said at the state’s last of five budget hearings for the public to weigh in on ISBE’s proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year.

Cedra Crenshaw, mother of three children in western suburban schools, joined Raise Your Hand before the hearing at the Thompson Center to call for a formal testing opt-out bill, and to ask ISBE to apply for a required testing waiver from the federal Department of Education.

State Sen. William Delgado and Rep. Will Guzzardi are willing to sponsor the legislation and introduce it in January, Katten said.

Crenshaw said PARCC, even with accommodations, isn’t appropriate for children with special needs, like two of her children.

The way testing laws are written now, “a child has to make a conscientious decision on his own to refuse a standard test,” Crenshaw said. “My son has an IEP (individualized education plan) specifically because he can’t make conscientious decisions on his own.”

State superintendent Christopher Koch, who listened to testimony during the two-hour hearing, told the Sun-Times afterwards he took an online sample test and saw no problems with any of the questions. PARCC is aligned to new common core standards — and links elementary learning with what’s expected in high school — writing, critical thinking, he said.

“Is it harder? Absolutely,” Koch said by telephone. “But why would we expect less of our students than internationally benchmarked standards?”

He said he hears parents concerns, but letting the entire CPS district skip PARCC would put Illinois at risk of losing federal funding.

“We’re not doing this because we want to punish parents and children,” Koch said.

ISBE has held firm to the PARCC schedule for spring, saying districts had sufficient warning to prepare.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked ISBE for another year’s delay in implementing PARCC, saying that the district is not prepared and that giving the new exam will mean double testing for CPS students already on the hook for other tests to rate their schools and teachers.

Byrd-Bennett was rejected in July but has vowed to keep lobbying.

In that rejection letter, ISBE wrote that the state cannot jeopardize its federal funding for poor children by granting CPS an exception to the law requiring the test, though Raise Your Hand members said that no state has yet been penalized for skipping the test.

Thirty suburban districts also have unified against the PARCC in the spring, saying high schoolers will lose too much instruction time. The group also has asked for another year of field testing and for “indefinitely” replacing PARCC with the ACT for 11th graders as long as PARCC doesn’t count for college admissions.

On Friday, ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said that more than half of state schools have the technological capacity to administer PARCC online and the rest can use the paper-and-pencil option.

Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan deflected questions about PARCC, saying he’ll stay out of the tussle between the district he used to lead and the state.

“I don’t know all the details. That’s actually something CPS has to work out with the state,” Duncan said while visiting Farragut Career Academy. “. . . Well, I think the state and CPS need to work that out together.”

The Board of Education will discuss the budget in December and make its recommendations in January.

Members also heard a great deal of public support Friday for an increase in state funding for preschool and other early childhood education.

A recent report by Advance Illinois showed that Preschool for All slots have decreased from a high of about 95,000 in 2009 to about 70,000 in 2014.

Tangenise Porter, truancy coordinator for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who chairs the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids organization, argued that the best way to reduce crime was to educate children as young as possible.

“It’s common sense that kids who start school with the right social, emotional and cognitive skills will do better in the long run — and the research proves common sense to be true,” she told board members. “Kids who participate in high-quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school and are less likely to be arrested for both violent fcrime and drug-related felonies…

“We can serve tens of thousands more children with a few relatively small down payments, matched by federal dollars,” Porter continued, “and reap the rewards when we save future billions on remedial education, incarceration and prosecution.”

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