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Activist CPS principal: ‘Shut down the PARCC now’

Activist principal Troy LaRaviere already promised that children at his Lake View school who didn’t want to take the state-mandated PARCC test over the next four weeks would be welcomed with added classroom learning.

On Thursday, the head of Blaine Elementary School urged Chicago and the rest of the country not just to opt out of PARCC, but to end the new standardized test altogether. Overtesting is “toxic,” he said.

“Let’s all say it together: ‘The theory of testing and accountability has failed our children.’ Opt Out Chicago. Opt Out Illinois. Opt Out America. And shut down the PARCC now,” LaRaviere wrote on his personal blog, which he started in the wake of an op-ed he wrote for the Sun-Times in July calling the mayor’s education policies harmful to learning.

He continued: “Over-testing has also given politicians a way to blame public schools for things that are clearly a result of the actions and inactions of the failed politicians themselves.”

On Monday, backing down from a standoff with the state, Chicago Public Schools reversed its plan to give the new PARCC test to just 10 percent of its 664 schools and administer it to all eligible third- through eighth-graders and high schoolers. PARCC results won’t count this year toward school ratings, teacher evaluations or graduation; CPS uses a different test for that to be given in May — around the same time as the second part of PARCC.

Blaine’s Parent Teacher Association responded by urging all students to “opt out” of the test — the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — so students would get back “10 hours of vital classroom instruction” otherwise used up by the test based on new Common Core state standards.

The state doesn’t recognize parental “opt-outs” ahead of testing but does recognize that children can refuse to take a test placed in front of them.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the state encourages everyone to take the same test offered statewide because “we want to know how all kids are doing.

“When only some students are taking the test, parents, teachers, policy makers are not really getting a true picture of how our schools are doing for all students. What if inadvertently fewer African-American or children from low-income families take this test? How will we know if we’re making improvements for those children? It’s important to know how all students are performing against these more rigorous learning standards.”

In a letter to principals on Thursday, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett included general guidelines advising that children who refuse to take the test can remain in the testing room to read, draw or do schoolwork as long as it’s not in a subject being tested. If large numbers of students refuse to take the test, they can be moved to a cafeteria or library to do the same quiet activities, according to the district.

“ISBE made clear to CPS that failing to administer PARCC with fidelity to all required students puts district funding at risk,” Byrd-Bennett wrote in the letter. “Districts and schools are required to test at least 95 percent of eligible students to ensure that test results for individual schools are representative of the school as a whole and not a small number of students” or CPS risks financial sanctions.

LaRaviere, an education adviser to mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, sent a letter home to parents Tuesday voicing no objections to refusals and promising “plans that will provide enriched learning experiences for non-testing students during the testing window.”

He ramped up his rhetoric on Thursday, when he also reported that about 55 percent of Blaine students intended to refuse to take the PARCC test.

LaRaviere said parents have asked him whether their children should try PARCC to get used to it.

“If the schools announced that next year they were going to expose your children to exhaust fumes for five minutes per day, would [you] be resigned to that inevitability and submit to your child starting his or her exposure this year so he or she can ‘get used to it’?” he responded. “That analogy may seem harsh and over-the-top, but it is my lived experienced that this massive over-testing has been as toxic to education in Chicago as breathing exhaust fumes would be to a living organism.

“So no. We don’t need to get used to this. We need to stop this,” LaRaviere wrote.

The blog post — especially the “toxic” line — was a step too far for Steve McKenzie, who’s among a group of Blaine parents who will have their children take the test and doesn’t want his twin fifth-graders to be “ostracized, criticized or penalized for our choice to take the test.”

“I don’t want to come across like I’m pro-PARCC or I’m for excessive testing, but I look down the road and see that the PARCC would need to exist, so why not bite the bullet and get started?” he said.

“Parents can make their own decision; school officials in their professional roles should not be taking a side,” McKenzie said. “Perhaps it was intended as a hyperbolic analogy, but it certain raises a red flag for us as parents: will our children at Blaine be intimidated or ostracized, be it purposefully or unintentionally? When their principal is throwing grenades, you wonder.”