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Despite law, PARCC refusals not enough at some CPS schools

Illinois law makes it clear that every public school student in grades three through eight and certain high school classes must be offered a standardized test. Then children can take the test or refuse it.

Parents cannot opt out students ahead of time, according to Chicago Public Schools and the state.

But in the absence of any state or districtwide policy on how to handle children who refuse the PARCC test, some schools in CPS can’t decide whether it’s up to the child or the parents.

Walsh Elementary School required letters from parents of students who said they’d skip the state-required test after many refused PARCC, said the counselor at the Near South Side school.

Roosevelt High School’s leaders required students who refused the test to call their parents first, students and staff told the Sun-Times.

And Kenwood Academy High School had at least one teacher who also told refusing students their parents would be called, CPS confirmed.

“It’s chaos and confusion we could fix if we had a sane policy instead of the state of things,” said Cassie Creswell, who heads the testing watchdog group More Than A Score. “In some cases, schools are hoping to intimidate kids into taking the test, but in some cases, it’s a mindset that this is actually something that parents are supposed to be having a say in.”

Her group has backed a bill in Springfield that passed the House last year but is awaiting action by the Senate. It would clarify how parents could prevent their children from being tested.

Two Roosevelt High School juniors told the Sun-Times they felt intimidated. Both were sent to the main office after refusing PARCC. There, the principal wanted to call their parents. One succeeded in refusing, the other thwarted because his parents don’t speak English.

“The reason why I didn’t want to take it was that I have a test tomorrow in a class,” the second student said. “I wanted to attend the class. They said, ‘You cannot attend the class, you have to take the PARCC test.’”

The one who did refuse said, “they told me they’re going to call my parents and say I cut my class.”

Everyone who refused was housed in the room normally used for in-school suspensions until their parents came to pick them up or 3 p.m., teacher Tim Meegan said.

Walsh leaders instructed teachers to get a letter from parents, school counselor Kristy Brooks said.

“When this mandate came down, it created a lot of confusion and a lot of angst with the students and the teachers,” she said. “My thoughts are it seems it was done to put pressure on kids to take the test. It was done on the second day of testing after we had a lot of students refuse.”

She said the principal made one teacher who works with fourth- and fifth-graders call the parents of kids who verbally refused.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Michael Passman stressed that CPS has to offer the test to all eligible third- to eighth-graders and high schoolers enrolled in certain courses. The state could withhold hundreds of millions in federal money if less than 95 percent of students test.

“In the small number of instances in which testing procedures have not aligned with PARCC guidelines, CPS has worked with principals to align practices with district and state requirements,” Passman said. “CPS has worked with principals to provide clarity on PARCC requirements, and we continue to engage school leaders during the testing window to ensure PARCC is properly implemented.”

He also said principals were trained and given legal guidance on how to handle refusals, including advice that they could let parents know their child refused PARCC “just as they would if a student refused to take a classroom test or quiz,” Passman said.