CPS families, teachers cite pressure to take PARCC test

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Retired teacher Carol Hays hands out flyers to students Wednesday outside Walsh Elementary School explaining how to refuse to take the PARCC test. | Santiago Covarrubias / Sun-Times

Though students themselves of any age have the right to refuse to take the state standardized test known as PARCC, some Chicago Public Schools students and parents say they’ve been yelled at or chastised in front of classmates to take it this year.

Beasley Academic Center parent Rivanna Jihan — who teaches at a CPS high school — said her daughter’s principal told her CPS would use PARCC to determine the child’s promotion to sixth grade. And the principal said CPS bars employees from discouraging PARCC participation, saying, “It’s illegal for you to block or not give this test,” according to Jihan.

“I laughed,” Jihan said. “My daughter is opting out of this test.”

According to CPS spokesman Michael Passman, Beasley’s principal denied saying the test would be used for promotion purposes: “She said, in the future, there could be more weight to it.”

The principal of Thorp Elementary in Portage Park wrote to parents Monday that “given the financial stress the system is under and the district’s expressed desire to cut the number of tests given to students, there is a distinct possibility that PARCC will become the test of record for the selective-enrollment process next year.”

“He should not have done that,” Passman said. “He’s been notified that that’s not board policy.”

At Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village, an assistant principal told eighth-graders PARCC “would determine which high school I would go and my classmates would go,” according to 13-year-old David Gervacio. “That’s a lie.”

“There were a lot of students who didn’t want to take this test, but we had to ’cause it will determine which high school we would go,’ ” he said.

Saucedo’s principal denied that her assistant principal said that, according to Passman.

A teacher at Morrill Math & Science Specialty School in Chicago Lawn made a similar argument about getting into a certain high school, according to parent Shoneice Reynolds. She said her seventh-grade son, Asean Johnson, stopped taking standardized tests after 2013, when scores were used to help decide which schools could be closed.

“I understand that you’re exercising your civil rights, but I really feel you need to take this test,” Reynolds said Asean was told. “You need this for high school.”

CPS acknowledges PARCC doesn’t count for placement or a school’s rating or teacher evaluations.

“We are not using this test for selective-enrollment purposes, and we haven’t suggested that,” Passman said.

The complaints regarding PARCC this year appear to involve only a handful of schools.

The month-long testing window opened March 6.

CPS is now in its third year giving PARCC on behalf of the Illinois State Board of Education.

The complaints have arisen in part because parents can’t excuse their children ahead of time. Also, the requirements on PARCC boil down to this: Schools have to administer the exam to all third- through eighth-graders — but kids don’t have to take it.

The idea behind testing everyone was to make sure that all students, including poor kids and special ed kids, are making academic progress and not being neglected.

“Assessments play a role in helping ISBE and school districts identify areas where schools need targeted support,” a state board official wrote to parents. “The average amount of time spent on accountability assessments represents less than 1 percent of the school year.”

Among the reasons parents give for having their kids not take the test: CPS students already take so many standardized tests that count for school ratings or college credit, and PARCC takes upwards of eight hours per kid.

Estela Corona with daughters Alexis Guerra, 13, and Sara Guerra, 10. | Provided photo

Estela Corona with daughters Alexis Guerra, 13, and Sara Guerra, 10. | Provided photo

Most states have dropped PARCC, now administered in just six states and the District of Columbia.

ISBE says 95 percent of every district’s eligible kids must take the test, which it pays for.

Teachers have been warned about offering their views on PARCC. Kristy Brooks, a counselor at Walsh Elementary School in Chinatown, said her principal gave her a “cease-and-desist” letter the day after she handed out flyers after school on the sidewalk outside Walsh’s building.

“I was clocked out” but still accused of “using my access to students and my status as staff member to suggest they refuse the PARCC,” Brooks said.

Estela Corona said her daughter was yelled at by her seventh-grade teacher after refusing PARCC at Walsh.

“She made a scene in the class,” Corona said, describing the teacher’s words as “Make my life easier, and go downstairs to the principal’s office, and get your ticket for it. Why don’t you just let me do my job?”

Estela Corona sent her kids to school with their refusals to take PARCC testing spelled out on their arms. | Provided photo

Estela Corona sent her kids to school with their refusals to take PARCC testing spelled out on their arms. | Provided photo

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