Demand for Opt-Out Rights on PARCC testing grows as testing begins


Christina Nolan, Cindy Goodrich, Ann Williams, Will Guzzardi and Karen Yarbrough*

Parents and lawmakers united on Monday, Mar. 9, the first day of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing, to demand a clear statewide policy allowing parents to opt their students out of state standardized testing

“Today, we’re going to see frustration and confusion at schools across this city,” said State Representative Will Guzzardi (District 39), who filed HB 306 allowing parental opt-out. “Teachers and principals are making up policy as they go and students and families are going to be the worse for it.” 

Colorado's State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg took the test last week and said Tuesday that he was shocked. "Even though I chose the correct answers, I lost almost half my score because I didn’t 'show my work' the way that PARCC requires in their grading rubrics. 

"I had some trouble understanding how to maneuver within the software and was told that a teacher cannot help during the testing. Hmmm … so how do the students figure this out," he asked. 

Under the current policy of the Illinois State Board of Education, students who refuse to engage with the test are not to be tested, and their refusal to test is not counted against their school’s overall score. But parents are not currently allowed to send a letter expressing this refusal on their child’s behalf. 

That means that some as young as 8 years old, some with developmental disabilities, are forced to refuse the test themselves if their parents don’t want them to take it. 

A mother of Chicago Virtual Charter School (CVCS) students, Christina Nolan, said that parents were being financial pressured to take the test. In CVCS, students were told they would lose their $150 to $180 technology reimbursement if they refused to take PARCC. 

“Internet is required for students to do their daily schoolwork. One of the families absolutely relies on the payment to pay their monthly Internet bill," explained Nolan. "That mother wanted to opt out all four children from the test. If she opts out she will not receive the second of the two yearly reimbursements for the Internet. The mother had no choice but to rescind her opt out request." 

While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy allows students not taking the test to read, other school systems such as Oak Park and Villa Park do not allow them to participate in any activity. They must sit in the room for the approximate 10 hours during which their classmates are taking the test doing nothing. 

Guzzardi also pointed out that many feel that "this added testing deprives students of quality instructional time of important academic opportunity in the class room for the sake of preparing and sitting for tests. PARCC is often described as a test for which students don't need additional test prep time. It is supposed to be linked in with the curriculum that students are already receiving in the classroom. But we've heard that there are students who have had to sit out of class for 6 hours just to be prepared for the logging in and computerized administration of the test." 

The NWEA MAP test is given in the spring in Chicago. This second test students must take counts toward student promotion, school ratings and teacher evaluations. 

“Many of us around the state believe our students are over-tested and under-taught,” said Karen Lee, a parent at Audubon Elementary. “We don’t want to participate in this new and expanded regime of standardized tests, and we believe it’s a decision we should be able to make on behalf of our young children.” 

Wendy Katten, Executive Director, Raise Your Hand, said she’s heard from parents across the state who are frustrated by the new test and grateful to their lawmakers for supporting HB 306. 

“We applaud these legislators who are taking a stand for clarity and consistency on this issue, and advocating for parents’ rights on behalf of their students,” said Katten. 

One of the bill’s co-sponsors is State Representative Jaime Andrade (40th District), who questions the sheer volume of tests CPS students are faced with. “In Chicago, the average student will take more than 40 standardized tests before completing second grade,” Andrade said. “Assessments are important tools for measuring academic progress, but parents should have the first say in their child's education, before we overwhelm students with hours of high-stakes testing.” 

Ann Williams, 11th District State Representative, another co-sponsor, said that concern about the PARCC test is being felt far and wide, and many feel pressured by its rushed implementation here in Illinois. 

“I’ve heard from principals, teachers, administrators and parents all expressing concerns about whether the PARCC test is ready to go,” said Williams. “Until we are able to comprehensively evaluate the readiness of our students to take the test and the experts are comfortable with the test itself, we must provide families with the opportunity to make their own decisions regarding their children’s education.” 

For parents willing to participate, More Than A Score is collection information about where children are refusing to take the PARCC test. 

If HB306 passes, Illinois would join six other states with some parental opt-out provision on the books. Legislatures in New Jersey, Maine, Hawaii, Arizona and Oregon are considering similar measures this year.

*Photo courtesy of Luis Klein


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