As Chicago Public Schools gear up to give a new controversial standardized state test, at least two top-rated North Side schools are encouraging parents to sit their children out of the PARCC.
An opt-out bill passed out of a House committee Wednesday in Springfield, but with testing starting as soon as Monday, Blaine Elementary School and Nettelhorst Elementary School are taking matters into their own hands. A third school, Decatur Classical Elementary School, was set to discuss PARCC options at a Local School Council meeting Wednesday evening, according to the LSC chair.
Blaine’s Parent Teacher Association is aiming for 100 percent of students in third through eighth grade to refuse the test so “our students can get back 10 hours of vital classroom instruction.” The group is encouraging parents to download the forms on their web site to inform their children’s teachers.
“I think having multiple tests that our CPS students have to take is a waste,” said PTA co-president Melissa Bullock. “Right now the PARCC results don’t mean anything.”
PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a new common-core based test in its first full year. It won’t count for grade promotions, graduation, teacher evaluations or school ratings. CPS uses a different test called the NWEA MAP test for those purposes.
“I just see 10 hours of my kid’s time being swept away for nothing, especially when MAP testing in May overlaps with May testing in PARCC,” Bullock continued. “I want to keep her energies focused on that.”
CPS buckled Monday to pressure from the state that it would withhold $1.4 billion if CPS didn’t give the PARCC to all CPS 3rd- to 8th-graders and certain high-schoolers, instead of just 10 percent the district wanted to test as a pilot.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said PARCC, which hasn’t yet been fully administered, “is absolutely not in the best interest of our students,” but said CPS would follow state law in giving it to all students.
Byrd-Bennett said neither the state nor the district had any specific instructions for how principals should treat children who refuse the test. CPS is expected to tell principals Thursday that children who refuse may remain in the testing classroom to quietly read, draw or do other school work as long as it isn’t related to the tested subject, according to district spokesman Bill McCaffrey.
Blaine’s activist principal Troy LaRaviere voiced no objections in an email he sent to the school’s parents Tuesday night.
“I am writing to make it clear that the Blaine administration fully supports the PTA’s effort to maximize Blaine students’ instructional time,” LaRaviere wrote. “Students whose parents opt them out will receive a full day of instruction. Teachers are developing plans that will provide enriched learning experiences for non-testing students during the testing window. I want to clearly state that whether you opt-out or not, Blaine’s administration and teachers will respect and support your wishes for your child.”
LaRaviere said Blaine was selected to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, and its eighth-graders would also have an algebra exit test by year’s end.
“On top of these assessments, the PARCC adds several weeks of additional testing to an already packed testing regimen,” he wrote.
Last year, CPS “opt-outs” on the ISAT exam skyrocketed over years past, accounting for 2,054 of the state’s 2,198 students who didn’t take that test, compared with just 99 total in 2013. In 2014, CPS stopped counting ISAT results, replacing them with MAP, so some parents, teachers and members of the Chicago Teachers Union boycotted the double testing — notably at Saucedo Elementary School in Little Village and Drummond Montessori in Bucktown.
This week, Nettelhorst’s principal Cindy Wulbert wrote on her school’s web site that “opt-out procedures are similar to past years. A letter from a parent or guardian must be written to administrators. Please include your email address so we may contact you. The district requires a conversation between parents or guardians prior to opting out. Please include the name of your child and room number. I have extended the deadline for opt-out letters to March 12. Students who do not take the test must bring self-directed activities such as reading or other quiet activities.”
Nettelhorst’s LSC voted two weeks ago to allow parents to write and notify the school that their children would refuse PARCC.
Unlike at least six other states including Wisconsin, Illinois has no opt-out law under which parents can choose ahead of time whether or not their child will be tested. Illinois law requires schools and districts to offer tests to every child, so the Illinois State Board of Education interprets that to mean students have to refuse a test when presented with one.
“Opting out is not an option,” state superintendent and PARCC proponent Christopher Koch wrote last fall in a letter to parents.
On Monday, Byrd-Bennett said that “without specific guidelines from ISBE on this issue, we put the burden of that decision on an 8-year-old or a 10-year-old, and that’s pretty unfair.”
But she stopped short of offering a district-wide policy for children who do refuse, nor would she comment on the opt-out bill saying she hadn’t seen the legislation.
That bill, introduced by Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago), passed 3-2 in a House committee Wednesday and now awaits a vote in the full House.
Some members of the parent groups Raise Your Hand and More Than A Score have shared stickers for children who can’t or won’t verbalize their refusal, reading “I refuse the PARCC. Thank you for understanding.”
Raise Your Hand’s Wendy Katten, who’s supporting the opt-out bill, said she’s received a flurry of emails describing a wide variety of school responses to parents who’ve asked that their child be left out of testing