Chicago Public Schools and the State of Illinois have finally come to an agreement concerning new, mandated standardized state tests, the Partnerships for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and every student in the Chicago district will take the test this spring.
The truce came about when the Illinois State Board of Education sent a letter to the district last week reminding district officers that if CPS gave the test to students at only 10% of its schools, $1.4 billion in funding could be lost.
Becky Vevea, writing for WBEZ Public Radio, reports the CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she does not think the test is appropriate for administering to students this year, but added that the state had given her office no choice. One result of this decision is that CPS students will be bombarded with tests for the rest of the school year. Not all students will be taking all the tests, but the number of tests is disruptive, explains Wendy Katten, head of the parent group Raise Your Hand.
Third and fifth grades will take the PARCC exam on paper, and 6th through 8th, as well as high school students in Algebra I and English I, will test on computers. A second phase of the PARCC exams will be administered between April 27th and May 22nd, and the final phase of the district-required NWEA MAP test will be given to all kindergarten through 8th grades between May 11th and June 12th. School ends on June 16th.
Along with these tests, CPS students will take a series of REACH tests used to evaluate teachers. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate program students will be tested the second and third week of May.
Currently, Illinois has no “opt out” provision for removal from testing for parents and students. Board of Education president David Vitale said that the Feb. 24 re-election politics were not a factor in the decision to mandate the taking of the PARCC, writes Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun Times.
“Both the Illinois State Board of Education and the Department of Education have made it clear we have no other option other than to administer the test,” Vitale said. “They refused to work together with any of us to offer any alternative solutions. Instead of compromise, ISBE continues to reiterate the devastating sanctions that would befall is if we did not comply with the district wide implementation.”
Superintendent Christopher Koch said the state would not join into a request by CPS asking the US Department of Education for a waiver from the test, since PARCC is fully aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards and should be given to state students. CPS countered by pointing out that children in Chicago schools did not have adequate computer skills, nor did they have enough computers to take the exam.
Katten agreed, and adds that other states including Massachusetts and California have negotiated waivers, and New York was not penalized even though thousands of students refused to take PARCC. A statement from the state superintendent included this statement:
“We’re pleased to see that CPS will be moving forward with the assessment of all students. We believe it is a matter of equity and fairness that all students be able to demonstrate their mastery of the Illinois Learning Standards, so that appropriate support can be provided to ensure they remain on track for success in college and careers. Many districts throughout the state have spent months, even years, preparing for the new assessments and we are committed to working with CPS as they begin preparations.”
Byrd-Bennett, in an article in the Chicago Tribune by Juan Perez and Diane Rado, states that individual schools will decide how students who choose to sit out the test will be handled. Activist Katten added:
“While we are not that surprised that CPS has caved to these threats, the timing is horrible, and CPS should be offering a refusal policy for students and parents. Either way, we’ll be sharing test refusal information with parents all week.”
In January, CPS announced it would give the test at only 66 of its over 600 schools, although all schools were instructed to prepare for the test. Hundreds of Illinois schools are choosing not to take the test using a computer, but will take paper-and-pencil tests instead. The switch will cost the state about $2.4 million because computer testing is less expensive.
PARRC is designed to cover Common Core standards for which Illinois schools have been preparing for several years.