PARCC testing begins again but still no opt-out policy

SHARE PARCC testing begins again but still no opt-out policy

Some Chicago parents rallied against the standardized PARCC test last year and had their children opt out of the exam. This year, some of them will do so again. | Sun-Times file photo

This week, when state standardized testing begins at many CPS schools, at least one sixth-grader at Sumner Elementary School will be sitting out PARCC.

“I’m going to refuse PARCC next week because we haven’t had typing classes,” Diontae Chatman told the Board of Education last week, missing school for the first time all year so he could testify.

“We didn’t have a qualified math teacher from September to January,” he added. Plus last year, students taking the test online were logged on and off repeatedly, among other problems.

But skipping the test, even though state law allows it, could bring about consequences that feel unfair to children.

“My school is threatening to take away our field day to students who refuse PARCC,” Diontae explained. “I think we all should get treated the same way, if we take it or if we don’t take it.”

Once again, neither Chicago Publics Schools nor the Illinois State Board of Education have any specific directive for how schools should treat children who refuse to take the exam between now and May 15.

Meanwhile, the district is urging all parents to participate in the test, saying PARCC provides useful detailed data.

“PARCC is a mandatory exam and the district’s failure to implement the exam does have serious consequences” that are financial, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said. “We’re making a lot of short-term fixes, so we can’t afford any reduction in financing from the state as a result of our failure to administer the test.”

PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — is given to third- through eighth-graders and some high schoolers. Aligned to Common Core standards, it aims to show how well students are preparing for college at each grade level. Though PARCC was designed to be interactive and taken on a computer, CPS’ third- and fourth-graders still will take a paper version.

PARCC still carries no consequences at CPS, which uses a separate test to evaluate teachers and schools.

For its second year, PARCC has been shortened. It has a simpler format, and results have been promised much sooner than last year — by the summer, rather than late autumn, so that teachers and parents can actually use the results.

Those improvements still won’t stop a number of families in Chicago from skipping it.

Illinois has no formal way for parents to opt their children out of the test beforehand, and state law requires schools to offer every eligible child a test. The onus falls on children to refuse it.

So once again, schools are handling PARCC refusals in different ways, depending on who’s in charge. That approach led to a wide disparity of treatment in past years, said Cassie Creswell of More Than A Score, a group that champions less testing.

“CPS continues to perpetuate chaos during state testing by once again setting no district-wide policy requiring that students and families who refuse to participate in PARCC be treated with kindness and respect,” Creswell told board members. “Students need policies that clearly say no student refusing PARCC will be treated harshly or punished.”

Last year, reactions varied from putting students who refused in a separate room, to letting them read silently in the classroom, to letting them do nothing while classmates tested — the much-maligned “sit and stare.”

CPS insists that children will not be punished for refusing the tests.

Creswell alluded to a letter from the state warning CPS that federal funding could be withheld if less than 95 percent of students take it, saying, “No bullying from ISBE justifies adults in CPS bullying children and families.”

However, last year, about 10 percent of CPS students skipped PARCC and no consequences followed from the state or the U.S. Department of Education.

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