Civil Disobedience, Martin Luther King Day, and the PARCC Test

On January 19, we honor the birthday of Martin Luther King. We can do this by going shopping, or we can find an injustice and figure out how to right it through peaceful protest or civil disobedience. Of course, there are many greater injustices in our country and the world than forcing children to take an unfair and meaningless exam. But I’m going to focus on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) debate because it hits close to home for me as part of my education advocacy work.

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This is the third post I have published about PARCC recently. In my first post, I wrote about how folks in my community of Evanston, Illinois, have not been able to unite in a response to the PARCC testing scheduled for this spring.  The second post ended with the words,

“At a meeting discussing what our community could do about PARCC, the words “civil disobedience” were used.  If the efforts of our boards of education and state legislators fail, that may be the only recourse left to those of us who want to stop this runaway train. It may also be what is needed so our kids receive the educations they truly deserve.”

At the time I wrote these posts, there was a naïve hope that someone reasonable would listen. After all, 30 Illinois districts had expressed their opposition to PARCC in the letter to Chris Koch, the Illinois Superintendent of Education, and to the Illinois State Board of Education. Evanston Township High School was one of the 30 districts signing the letter.

Also, on December 16, some of our state legislators sent a Letter to Superintendent Koch asking him to look into concerns and consider delaying implementation of the PARCC. Thanks to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Illinois State Senators Heather Sterns and Daniel Biss, and Illinois State Representatives Kelly Cassidy, Laura Fine, Robyn Gabel, and Elaine Nekritz for trying to obtain a formal delay in implementing PARCC.

Well, we all just heard back, and the answer was a resounding NO to postponing this test for a year. This was not a huge surprise. So now those of us who are opposed to PARCC have two choices: Go along with the dictates of the powers that be or exercise our right to civil disobedience.

For those who want to continue voicing their opposition to this test, there are several paths to take. None of these will likely change the fact that Illinois schools will have to subject children in grades 3-12 to hours of PARCC testing.

I hope we all agree, especially in light of the recent massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, that the right of people to speak out is sacred. In this country, we call it freedom of speech. Folks on every end of the political spectrum fight hard to ensure our first amendment rights are maintained (even if we don’t hold the same point of view).

Thus, people who think PARCC is a bad choice for children may:

*Opt out (parents and students) – I can appreciate how hard this one is for children, especially younger ones, who have to tell the teachers they respect that they refuse to take the test. Or for those whose parents keep them home, only to have them confronted with make up exams when they return. Or for kids who have special needs or are English Language Learners and therefore will find the test makes them feel even worse about themselves. There are many good reasons to opt out, but all take courage.

Refuse to give the exam (teachers and administrators) – Braver yet, as it could cost the educators their jobs. This would be civil disobedience in its purest form, but the consequences are just too huge for most people.

Continue to write about the issue (me and many others) – Not all that risky except for having to deal with trolls and haters. But it helps to keep the issue in front of people in the hope that hearts and minds can be changed.

*Write letters to the appropriate elected officials – No one wants to lose an election or see approval ratings sink. Lots of letters, emails, and tweets may move some of them to rethink this issue.

*Peacefully protest – rallies, marches, and showing up at board meetings keep the issue visible. Press coverage of these things doesn’t hurt.

And a final idea…Do not allow the test stand in the way of appropriate education for students. Do not “teach to the test” or spend much time preparing for it. Parents and educators, reassure students that this year, it doesn’t count in terms of school or teacher evaluations. For kids in high school, give the message that the ACT and AP tests matter, but PARCC doesn’t.  To younger kids, make it clear that sometimes low test scores are the fault of the test itself and have little to do with a student’s ability.

When teachers give what are now called assessments (the kind of tests most of us took, created by teachers, for the purpose of evaluating both the quality of a teacher’s instruction and a student’s learning), poor scores all around could mean that all of the kids did not study or learn the material.

But most teachers worth their salt have to question whether a test on which most kids bombed was a well-written and fair test. I know I would have asked myself, did I not teach that well? And I would have wondered if my questions were too tricky, picky, or ambiguous.

So this last option is just a thought. Stop spending any more time preparing for what we know is an unfair high stakes test that has no value to anyone except the test-making company and data-lovers. Teachers, principals, and administrators, go back to the important work of providing an appropriate education for each child. Parents, give your kids the message that this test doesn’t matter and is not a reflection of how smart they are.

This is a slightly different version of the old Viet Nam protest, “What if they gave a war and nobody came.” I’m thinking, what if they gave a test and nobody cared. Yes, it’s still a huge waste of time for the kids who have to spend hours taking it, and that’s sad. My final idea doesn’t answer that. Nor does it preclude folks from taking their protests and civil disobedience farther. I applaud those who are comfortable doing this. But it is also important to respect the choices made by others.

I really wish our elementary school board would stand with the ETHS Board to express solidarity in opposition to PARCC. Despite all the differing points of view in Evanston, I think we should all be able to agree on this: Let’s not let a meaningless test divide our community or keep our children from receiving the kind of instruction they deserve.

*If you want to write letters, protest, or find out more about opting out, please join Wendy Katten, the Executive Director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education and Cassie Creswell of More Than A Score for an informative discussion about PARCC, your parental rights, and instructions on how to Opt-out/Refuse this test.

Hosted by: The Skokie Organization of Retired Educators IEA/Retired
Date/Time: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 11:15 am
Location: Skokie Illinois Education Association Office: 8833 Gross Point Road, Skokie
Free and open to the public 

Please R.S.V.P your attendance to Chaya Rubenstein at chrubenstein36@gmail.com  or call 847-877-6678

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