Chicago Public Schools Pushes Back on PARCC

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In spite of the chance that Chicago Public Schools may lose federal funding, leaders are ready to stand up against a mandate in place to begin administering standardized exams this spring across the district. Juan Perez, Jr. of the Chicago Tribune writes that the district will allow only 66 of its more than 600 schools to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, known as PARCC.

Taking the PARCC is an extension of a pilot program that began last year. The majority of the schools will continue to administer NWEA-MAP and EPAS exams.

School district chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the school board members made the decision walk away from PARCC, which, in the end, could have bearing on congressional debate over laws that created the Common Core standards and related high-stakes testing. When Byrd-Bennett requested a waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education, she did not receive it.

Byrd-Bennett’s reason for avoiding the test is that she feels the district is not ready for the computer-centered PARCC exam.

“Too many of our children, over 400,000 of them, don’t have regular access to the technology that is needed. And we find that is particularly so in the younger grades,” she said.

The district chief says the tests will be given next year when district access to computers has improved. The Chicago Teachers Union also opposes the test joining Byrd-Bennett in her concerns.

“When we have teachers without desks and students without books, and we’re still trying to mandate a computer-driven test without any of the infrastructure we need to do that with,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “This is another unfunded mandate that comes down to punishing people for being poor.”

Illinois entered into a four-year contract, worth up to $160 million, with NCS Pearson, Inc. to develop and administer the exam. The PARCC is in place to challenge students’ critical thinking and digital skills and uses an online computer to take the test. Even so, CPS would have third- and fourth-graders use the paper version of the exam. All other grade-levels would take the computerized version.

Lauren Fitzpatrick and Becky Schlikerman, writing for the Chicago Sun Times, quotes Byrd-Bennett:

“We continue our successful implementation of the Common Core, and we are moving forward with the plan to pilot PARCC to a 10 percent sample of schools across the district during both the March and May PARCC testing windows.”

Last year, a CPS group of parents submitted petitions of about 4,000 signatures asking the state education superintendent to delay the 10-hour online test until next year. The Illinois State Board of Education has maintained that federal law mandates that all students must be given the same state test.

Rick Cohen, writing for Chicago Now, said the history of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil right’s advocacy included engaging in civil disobedience, which is applicable in many instances of unjust public policies. Teacher and education advocate Laurie Levy has protested what she sees as an injustice, which is forcing children to take a PARCC test that she calls an “unfair and meaningless exam.”  When Levy learned that the test had to be given, she made a list of action options that would probably lead to civil disobedience.

Parents and students could opt out of the test, but that would take courage to carry out. Teachers and administrators could refuse to give the exam, which, though brave, could cost people their jobs.

Advocates could continue to write letters and articles about the unfairness of PARCC, especially for special needs students or ESL students. And, people could peacefully protest, even though peaceful protests at school board meetings and at other public assemblies could result in arrest. Finally, teachers could decide to do what is best for their students and not “teach to the test” or spend inordinate amounts of time preparing for it.