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During PARCC testing, some schools losing art, music, other ‘specials’

Waters Elementary School, a fine arts neighborhood school in Ravenswood Gardens, gave up art and music and drama during the week the school took PARCC tests.

It wasn’t just the third- through eighth-graders being tested who missed out, though, as they might during any standardized testing days, Waters dad Tim Lacey said. Classes also were canceled even for younger children, like his first-grader.

“The ‘specials’ teachers were really needed to administer and proctor the test,” Lacey said he was told.

Waters’ emphasis on the arts is a reason he and his wife chose the school — and why they love it still.

“I would like for [those teachers] to be able to do their job not only for the kids’ sake, but for their sake too,” he added. “This test doesn’t count for anything.”

Chicago Public Schools’ PARCC testing now is half over. The four-week window opened March 9 for all third- through eighth-graders and some high schoolers. Combined with another session in May, the test can take up to 10 total hours per child.

Critics of this new test molded to common core standards have complained that it deprives children of classroom learning, and that, between preparation and conditions children need to test well, it takes over the whole school.

Lacey and other parents don’t blame their principals for coping with mandates; they fault the district’s standardized testing requirements.

Parent Jennie Biggs, a PARCC critic, said the test has disrupted the schedule of her daughter, who attends Sheridan Elementary School.  |  File Photo

Parent Jennie Biggs said the PARCC test has disrupted the schedule of her daughter, who attends Sheridan Elementary School. | File Photo

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett lobbied to stave off a full rollout of the test another year, but threatened with losing $1.4 billion in state and federal funding, she relented a week before testing began.

That put the kibosh on Pulaski International Elementary School’s schoolwide spelling bee, said parent and Local School Council member Andrea Tolzman, whose fourth-grader earned a place to compete.

“Everybody had to drop everything to get ready,” she said.

Though Tolzman’s son is opting out of the test, he’s still feeling its repercussions.

“He’s really, really disappointed. . . . It had been building up for weeks before that. It got postponed, now rescheduled after PARCC, but it loses all that excitement and energy and the kids’ desire to study the words,” she said.

“It was a special event, it was academic — it was all the things you want in a school but it was postponed because of the test,” Tolzman said.

Pulaski’s International Baccalaureate program encourages its children to think globally and do research. Its fifth-graders are expected to stage an exhibition this spring as they finish IB’s primary years program and move on to to middle school. Meanwhile, PARCC is occupying the computer lab.

The school also is up for IB authorization this spring for its middle years program, Tolzman said.

“We’re spending three weeks prior to this visit shutting down as an IB school essentially because we’re getting ready for this test. . . . When they look at the school schedule during the last month, [they’ll see] students were completely removed from an IB environment and put into a data-driven testing environment.”

Belding Elementary School in Old Irving Park has held off major changes during PARCC, said parent Lynn Ankney, thanks to ample technology and a principal who knows how to juggle.

But it also didn’t hurt that at least half the school’s population refused the test, Ankney said.

Meanwhile, Sheridan Elementary School has been holding gym in a classroom. Jennie Biggs’ daughter spent two gym periods reading in a different classroom.

“It decreases the kids walking around in hallways — and that happened with ISAT also,” said Biggs, who’s also an LSC member. “They tried to decrease as much traffic in the hallways as possible.”