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PARCC testing myths put unfair pressure on parents and kids

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

Follow @csteditorialsTo get students to take a state standardized test known as PARCC, some Chicago Public Schools principals used alternative facts.

For example, as Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick reported last weekend, one elementary school principal sent a note to parents, telling them 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.”

This was not true.

What really happens if parents decide their kids won’t be taking the test? CPS, the state and federal government get an incomplete picture of how much additional support kids need to succeed in the classroom. The more kids in grades 3 through 8 who take it, the better. In the past the federal government has threatened to withhold money if less than 95 percent of students in each state took mandated tests.

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Nevertheless, kids can opt out. And parents who think kids are subjected to too much standardized testing have yanked their kids from the PARCC test since the state rolled out the exam two years ago.

But the opt-out process has been bungled by the state and, in turn, school districts.

From the start, the onus has been put on kids at many schools. Parents can’t excuse their children ahead of time. Nine-year-olds have been put in the scary position of defying teachers.

Some administrators apparently play loose with the truth to get kids and parents to opt in. That tells you how much pressure CPS places on teachers, and how much pressure the state puts on school districts, to get kids to take the test.

State Rep. Mary E. Flowers of Chicago had a remedy with a bill that would have forced the State Board of Education to come up with a form to allow parents to opt out on kids’ behalf. Her bill, which did not advance in the House on Wednesday, went too far by allowing high school students to opt out of essential college readiness exams, such as the SAT.

Flowers should try again. Give parents a way to opt out of PARCC. Let the buck stop there.

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