Parents push for testing ‘opt-out’ bill

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As they continue to push state education officials to ask the federal government for a waiver to delay a new standardized test scheduled to be given next year, parent advocates announced Friday they also want the state legislature to pass a bill allowing parents to opt their child out of the exam. The group made the announcement on their way to deliver a petition with more than 3,700 signatures to state education officials, who were holding a budget hearing at the Thompson Center. The petition demands that the state ask for a waiver on the new test called the PARCC.

The PARCC is aligned with new Common Core standards, which are supposed to be academically tougher than the existing state standards. In addition to multiple-choice questions, the PARCC also include tasks such as drawing graphs and aswering more complicated questions.

Concerns about the PARCC include how schools will manage the logistics of administering the computer-based test, to the time it will take to answer the questions. Parents are also concerned about the classroom time eaten up with testing overall.

State Sen. William Delgado and Rep. Will Guzzardi will be the sponsors of the opt-out bill and plan to introduce it in January, said Wendy Katten of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand. Last year, when parents tried to opt their children out of taking the ISAT (the state-mandated standardized test), the state board sent CPS a letter stating that parents had no right to do so. As a result, students themselves had to refuse.

A couple thousand students opted out of the test, activists say.

Parent Tara Baldridge, who spoke at the press conference and is running for alderman in the 8th Ward, says the current law requires schools to administer state-mandated tests. Baldridge said her 13-year-old son was fine with telling his teachers he did not want to take the test.

“But what about children who are five or nine?” Baldridge said at the press conference. “Let me make clear, the law does not currently allow parents to make the decision.”

Chicago parents were joined at the press conference by several from the suburbs. Cedra Crenshaw, who has children in school districts in Glen Ellyn and Bloomingdale, says it is especially important to her that there is a law allowing her to opt out because she would not want the task handed to her fifth-grader.

Saul Lieberman from Evanston said he thinks the PARCC is too long and he is against over-testing in general. “I would rather my children do art or music or play with friends,” he said. It has not been explained to parents how these tests benefit children, Lieberman said.

High school principals are especially worried about the logistics of the PARCC. Lara Pruitt, who has a son at Lane High School, says that 30 superintendents of high school districts have signed a letter to the state saying they don’t want to administer the test this year. They foresee having major problems  trying to figure out schedules as students take the PARCC.

Pruitt said this is especially complicated because at the same time students are taking the PARCC, they also have to take Advanced Placement exams. At Lane, more than 5,000 AP exams are taken each year, she said.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also does not want students to take the PARCC this year. She has sent letters and is in conversation with state and federal officials. Byrd-Bennett’s major objection to the PARCC is that, given the other tests given by the district, Chicago students will wind up taking too many exams.

*This page was amended on Dec. 1, 2014, to include a copy of a letter sent by Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch to the U.S. Department of Education on Nov. 25, 2014, asking for affirmation on the state’s interpretations of federal requirements administering the PARCC.