Opt Out of PARCC: Eight Reasons My Family Decided Skip this Test

In our cash-strapped state that has no money for actually educating our children, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is launching an investigation into the reason families and children opted out of taking last year’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. Perhaps if I share the reasons why my children decided to opt out of PARCC for their kids, I can save our state the time and money it plans to spend crunching data and interviewing (harassing?) administrators, parents, and even children to understand the opt out phenomenon.

So why did my grandkids opt out?

1) PARCC disrupts learning due to having to teach to the test and to taking a chunk out of instructional time to administer it. Students, even in elementary school, spend more time taking the PARCC tests than lawyers who sit for the Bar Exam.

2) PARCC is of questionable quality and reliability and needs revision before its widespread use. It is not a norm-referenced test, so scores are particularly meaningful.

3) There are no appropriate accommodations for English Language Learners and Special Education Students. 90% of children with IEPs who were forced to sit for PARCC failed last year – no surprise.

4) The computer technology required for the test is still not in place in many schools, nor are the younger children able to do some of the required computer operations. In fact, last year kids who took the paper and pencil version scored much higher than those using the computer.

5) PARCC is used primarily to rate students, teachers, and schools rather than to give feedback about student learning that can help parents and teachers of individual children maximize their learning potential. The results from March 2015 were not available until this school year,

6) Standardized testing and teaching kids to pass PARCC eliminates joy, creativity, curiosity, and risk-taking from the educational lives of children. Many children are highly anxious and stressed about taking the tests.

7) If anything, PARCC results show an even greater achievement gap between white children and children of color, as well as wealthy children and children living in poverty. This is despite hours and hours of time wasted preparing. Is this test even a fair measure of learning?

8) PARCC is heavily language oriented with reading passages that are not meaningful to children and wordy math problems. Children with different learning styles are at a huge disadvantage.

Last year, I shared how difficult it was to opt out of PARCC for my grandchild with special needs and how easy it was for my other grandchild (age eight) to opt herself out of taking the test. It took a huge effort by her parents to advocate for a different evaluation for my grandchild with special needs, who was unable to refuse PARCC on her own. Outrageous. ISBE is telling us that parents of elementary students, who should have the right to make major decisions for their children, don't have the right to opt them out of a meaningless test that will do much more harm than good.

In a year, nothing has changed. The opt out bill that passed the Illinois House languishes in the Senate, and we remain one of six states and Washington DC left in the PARCC Consortium that at one time included 24 states. It is disheartening that with no opt out policy in place, each school is free to decide on its own how to manage the children not taking PARCC. Last year at my granddaughter’s elementary school, there was no room to accommodate the kids, who were pretty much left to their own devises and told to read. These were good kids, but did anyone really think they would read quietly to themselves for six hours? And what about the children at other schools who were forced to “sit and stare” in the room while their classmates took PARCC?

Then there is the ridiculous waste of money when Chicago Public Schools are on the verge of bankruptcy and teachers are being asked to sacrifice pay and pensions. Taxpayers end up burdened with the cost of administering PARCC. $57 million is the projected annual price tag, plus hidden costs for schools, including paying for the technology and staffing needed to administer it. But it’s the children who really pay the price. How many of the CPS teachers and support staff laid off during this school year could have kept their jobs without this huge expense? How many repairs could have been made to broken down schools?

In her article in the Chicago Tribune, Diane Rado quotes Kevin O'Mara, superintendent of the Argo Community High School District and president of the Illinois High School District Organization:

"The testing required by them [ISBE] and their threats for noncompliance based on wholly inaccurate attendance numbers for public schools' PARCC participation stops us from helping students learn. Let's not forget what our roles are; we are supposed to be helping kids, and the over-testing culture puts roadblocks in our way…The inquiry he (state Superintendent Smith) proposes is like something out of the Inquisition."

I wrote countless blog posts about PARCC last year. Everything fell of deaf ears and here we are again. I probably would not have continued to advocate against PARCC if the ISBE had not stirred my hornet’s nest. What a travesty that they plan to waste our limited resources on this nonsense. Now I’m angry.

I can predict how children will do in this second round of PARCC testing. 30-40% will pass. That’s the way the test is designed. Rather than giving millions of dollars to Pearson, a for-profit company from Great Britain that is raking in big bucks as part of the educational-industrial complex, give me the money. I already told you what the test results will be, and here is what I will do:

I will donate the money directly to our schools so teachers can teach and children can learn, and I will fire Pearson and park the PARCC.

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