PARCC Bullies

The headline of an Evanston Now (no connection to ChicagoNow) post screamed, “D65 Could Lose $7 Million Due to PARCC Testing.” This claim is not only misleading, but it is also terribly devise to the Evanston community. It is pitting neighbors against one another for fear they will have to come up with $7 million more in taxes. The headline is click bait and no different from those at the grocery checkout that tell us Tom Cruise and ___ (name the male celebrity) were lovers.

From Raise Your Hand Illinois

From Raise Your Hand Illinois

Actually, this post (and a similar one in Evanston Patch) is even worse than deceptive and inaccurate journalism. In addition to dividing the community, it has started a witch-hunt against parents who decided (for a variety of thoughtful reasons) that their kids should opt out of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers) tests. And it gives power to the true bullies in this scenario, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the US Department of Education (DOE).

Let’s take a look at the misleading stuff first:

“Preliminary estimates indicate that the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is in danger of losing up to $7 million in state funds due to the refusal of a small number of students to take state-mandated tests.”

Note the word “estimates” and “in danger of” in the lead paragraph. There is no news here. We do not know if 5% or more of Evanston children refused to sit for PARCC. And we do not know if District 65 is actually in danger of losing funds from the state or federal government.

“While the refusal numbers are preliminary estimates that the district says are ‘conservative,’ district administrators noted that ‘it’s safe to say that the refusal rate has been higher than 5 percent at some District 65 schools and that the refusal rate for the district is likely less than 10 percent.’”

The actual numbers won’t be known until June, as there is another round of testing in May. 

“Superintendent Paul Goren warned parents in a letter before the testing began that ‘if more than 5 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 do not take the assessment, District 65 will fail to meet its state accountability obligations and is at risk of losing $7 million in state funds.’”

This threat actually came from Chris Koch, Superintendent of the ISBE. Because District 65 includes a large number of students from low-income families, the district receives $7 million annually in federal Title I funds distributed by the state. Every district in Illinois received this bullying letter, but the impact would be greatest on districts dependent on Title I funds due to children living in poverty. Nice, Mr. Koch.

Charles Bartling posted this story on Evanston Now, and Tim Moran, posted basically the same thing on Evanston Patch. Now the witch-hunt is in full bloom. So since these posts only present a speculative, worst-case scenario, I would like folks to know that there are other valid points to consider before they accuse families who opted out of raising their taxes.

Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, an advocacy group of parents dedicated to improving public schools that has been working on this issue for some time, outlines many of the myths about PARCC, including the threat of loss of Title I funding,

“Your district will not lose federal funds because of opt out There is no federal or state law that requires penalties for schools or districts if parents opt out or refuse the test. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95% participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. However, since 2014, Illinois has had a waiver to NCLB that replaces those sanctions with a new accountability system.

The Illinois NCLB waiver says that to receive points on factors in the Multiple Measures Index (MMI) used to grade schools that depend on test results, schools must have participation sufficient for results to meet a 95% confidence level. If large enough numbers opt out, a school or district could fail to meet that confidence level. Schools that do not meet their MMI targets are “priority schools” and are targeted for interventions. Priority schools are primarily designated as such by being in the lowest 5% of schools based on various performance ratings. Note that interventions for priority schools do not include withholding of funds.

Additionally, we know of no cases in other states where schools have been identified as priority schools solely on the basis of low participation rates. There have been schools that did not meet participation rates last spring in New York State, and even some in Chicago as well. One year on from massive opt outs, there have been no consequences. ISBE is making overblown threats to scare districts and families from opting out of the test.”

If folks don’t believe Raise Your Hand, there are numerous other sources to back up what this organization is saying. In a post that clearly and thoroughly explains the law, Seattle Education asks, “Will the US Department of Education take your school’s Title 1 funds if you opt your student out of the SBAC? Short answer, no.” Within this post, two New Jersey education professors, Christopher Tienken from Seton Hall University and Julia Sass Rubin from Rutgers University, agree with Raise Your Hand’s information and explain why. Before accusing “opt out” parents of raising their taxes, I suggest people get all of their facts straight.

There is no requirement in Illinois to cut Title I funding due to having less than 95% participation on PARCC. Koch is being the ultimate bully here. If parents (for a variety of legitimate reasons) do not want their children to take a non-normed test they deem  meaningless, should kids living in poverty be punished? I smell a lawsuit here if the threat were actually implemented. For that reason, I think his letter was akin to huffing and puffing from the big, bad wolf.

In other states, there have been many school districts where more than 5% of kids have opted out. There are states with huge opt out percentages. To date, not one school in those states has lost Title I funding as a result. The Evanston Now and Evanston Patch posts shared inaccurate information and enabled bullying by people trying to score political points.

On the Evanston parent Facebook page, there was a comment titled *name the families*.  The intention was to target people who opted out and blame them when funds were cut. So to the bullies who want the names of families whose children refused PARCC, here are five points to consider:

  1. If parents think something will be harmful to their children, don’t they have the right to protect their children? Even Superintendent Goren had reservations about this test, which he expressed in a letter to Koch dated March 9. Many parents have shared very legitimate concerns about PARCC.
  2. For children in special education with IEPs or students who are English language learners, the test is a nightmare. There are no appropriate accommodations other than taking more time and reading the directions loudly and slowly.
  3. High stakes standardized tests in general, and PARCC in particular, result in narrowing the curriculum and forcing educators to teach to the test. Rote learning of facts has replaced creative, imaginative, and student driven learning.
  4. The education reform movement has an interesting history and many knowledgeable detractors. It favors the privatization of education, which results in paying businesses huge sums of money to create testing and curricular materials. All of the funds spent on everything involved with the PARCC testing could be better spent providing direct services to children.
  5. In Illinois, don’t people still have the right to peacefully express political opposition to something they think is wrong, especially for this kids? Parents went to Springfield March 25 to lobby for a bill proposed by Representative Will Guzzardi of Chicago that would require schools to honor written requests from parents for their kids to skip the PARCC test. Other states already have laws like this on the books. Parents believe it should be their right to opt their children out of taking PARCC rather than putting the burden on the shoulders of their children to refuse.

In addition to speculating on how ISBE Superintendent Koch’s threat could impact District 65 funding, District 65 Superintendent Goren said, “we will continue to be respectful of a family’s decision for their child to refuse taking the exam.” So to all of the PARCC bullies out there, do a little reading about this topic and use facts and respectful language when discussing it. And assume that folks who opted out had valid reasons.

Regardless of how folks view the “opt out” issue, no one deserves to be bullied. That includes kids who are being told they have to “sit and stare” for hours of testing and families that make the choice to refuse PARCC. Remember, when it comes to curbing bullying, bystanders have a very important role. Regardless of personal views on this issue, do not allow anyone to be threatened or intimidated by PARCC bullies. Evanstonians need to have accurate information, listen to one another, and seek solutions with civility and respect.

Because parents who support opting out said that their comments were edited out so only those that agreed with the Evanston Now post were included, readers were unable to consider all sides of this issue. I invite those parents to comment here.

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