It makes no sense that Illinois dropped PARCC for high school but not for grades 3 through 8

On Monday the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) eliminated the requirement for high school students to take the PARCC exam. Instead high school juniors will be able to take the SAT free of charge. You can read the ISBE press release here.

That’s great if your kid is in high school. One less test for them to stress over. Plus they can take the SAT for free.

It’s not great if you’re like me, with a child in grades 3 through 8. I have a rising third grader so this year will be my son’s first time taking PARCC unless I figure out a way to opt him out.

Speaking of which, I have learned this in my two years in Illinois: if you want a Facebook post to generate hundreds of comments in the space of a couple of hours, all you have to do is join your town’s moms page and ask, “How do I opt my child out of PARCC?”

This Tribune article sheds more light on the decision with quotes like this one, “At the high school level, the PARCC exams took away from key instruction time, school administrators said.”

Okay, so we’ve now acknowledged PARCC is a waste of time in high school. But by leaving the testing requirement for grades 3 though 8, does that imply it’s okay to take away ‘key instruction time’ from elementary and middle school students?

Well, it’s not okay. I think the curve is now steeper for elementary school students, especially those coming out of half-day Kindergarten, when it comes to learning and mastering Common Core language arts and math. So many kids are struggling. They need the classroom time.

On the flip side, for the gifted and talented students like my son who is working on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards one and two grade levels above his own, why backtrack one to two grades and waste their time with PARCC prep and administration?

In that same Tribune story another high school administrator commented,”There was no element of skin in the game for the kids — they didn’t know why they had to take the exam.”

If high school students, students on the cusp of college and careers, don’t know why they had to take the exam, I can assure you, elementary and middle school students don’t either.

The argument ISBE set forth is high school students are already overtested with AP and SAT/ACT exams so removing PARCC alleviates the testing burden. Which it does, if you have a student in college prep classes. What if you don’t? That argument then dissipates.

Meanwhile I know that elementary school students have to take the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) exam three times a year. Students also take another standardized test assessing overall aptitude. In our district, fourth graders take the CogAT on top of MAP and PARCC. ALL students are subject to these testing requirements. That is quite a bit of out-of-class screen time for younger students.

Why then is it so important to continue to give PARCC to elementary and middle school students? Could someone please give me compelling arguments to support its continued administration in the younger grades?

The ISBE press release points at one possible reason, “The PARCC assessment is also aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards, and its results provide educators with data that may be used to provide individualized supports to students while preparing them for mastery of the state standards.” Well, isn’t that what MAP does? Aren’t we duplicating tests in these grade levels? I would argue MAP is much more useful for giving students real-time support since teachers and parents get MAP results within a week or two. PARCC results take several months.

You can’t say PARCC allows for ease of comparison among varying Common Core learning objectives. Several states have dropped PARCC and now only 7 states and the District of Columbia gave the exam during the 2015-16 school year.

If truth be told, I was not planning on finding a way for my son to opt out of PARCC testing this upcoming school year. Based on what I read in those hundreds of comments online, unless there is a special circumstance, in Illinois parents can’t simply opt their children out. The student has to do it. Since the reasons would be mine, not his, I didn’t think that was the right thing to do. Plus, our district has a good participation rate and I know singling my son out would upset him greatly.

But now I may have to change my mind. If I tell my son that high school students no longer have to take PARCC but he does, he will say that is not fair. He’s right, in the absence of any other valid reason, a reason I have yet to see, it’s not fair. This kid pretty much lives his life around the concept of fairness and often excuses himself from games at recess because in his view there is always someone who is not playing fair.

I’m not trying to start a revolution. What Pearson’s EPS was last quarter really does not bother me. But when I see something like this that is so logically inconsistent, well then I have to say something.

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