Bickering between Chicago Public Schools and the State of Illinois over administration of the controversial PARCC test, which began statewide on Monday, is causing headaches for Illinois parents, who still don’t know whether their kids are obligated to take the exam, or how to opt out.
CPS, which is required by state and federal law to administer the exam in all schools, originally told the state it would only give out the exam in 10 percent of Chicago schools in order to test out the process, but backed down under the threat of losing nearly $1.4 billion in state and federal funds for not complying.
The only way to avoid the exam is to opt out. The Illinois State Board of Education currently does not allow parents to opt their children out of the test, requiring the students themselves to make the decision, but State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said the rule is not being consistently applied.
“It’s the wild west out there with regard to parental and student refusal to testing,” Guzzardi said. “There is miscommunication between the state board of education and school districts about testing policies.”
Guzzardi has introduced a bill in the Illinois House that would provide clarity to students, parents and school districts on opt out procedure and would give parents the right to opt their children out of the test. The bill has made it through committee and will next be heard before the full House.
Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, who chairs the licensing oversight committee for elementary and secondary education, said PARCC is just one example of the testing bonanza taking place in schools, pointing out that PARCC is just one of eight standardized tests students will take, with sixteen more coming over the next several years.
“We are taking practice tests to take the test and then there is a post-test after the test. We are overtesting our children,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield wants the opt-out process streamlined to prevent occurrences of teachers putting pressure on students to take the exam.
“Currently when a student refuses to take the test, the teacher guides him to another room and basically interrogates the child to death and says ‘you really need to take this test,’ ” Mayfield said.
Mayfield, whose district is mostly black and Hispanic, sees the controversy over the exam as a civil rights issue and said the education of students is suffering because of demanding test preparation.
“Students in minority communities are not performing well because they need more class time instruction,” Mayfield said.
Christopher Koch, state superintendent of the Illinois Dept. of Education, is concerned about the effects of making it easier to opt-out of the exam as mass opt outs would affect the accuracy of student performance data, which will be used to evaluate teachers.
“This is also a funded mandate that is already paid for,” Koch said. “The state should not encourage the behavior of nonparticipation.”
Amy Ballinger-Cole, legislative director for Advance Illinois, a nonprofit that advocates for education reform, recognized parents’ concerns about over-testing, but said testing is a fundamental part of the education system.
“The General Assembly has worked so hard in the last ten years taking so many tough votes,” she said. “We all headed in the direction of a meaningful assessment system.”
If enough students do not take the exam, schools can face federal funding cuts but Guzzardi says those are empty threats.
“The worst that can happen is if a low-performing school did not meet 95 percent participation rate, then that school could be made a priority school,” Guzzardi said.