Defying state, CPS will test just 10 percent of schools

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Activists involved in the opt-out movement want the state to change its tone when it comes to student refusals on state assessments.

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Activists involved in the opt-out movement want the state to change its tone when it comes to student refusals on state assessments.

CPS officials say that the district will go against the state’s testing plans and refuse to give all students the controversial new PARCC exam. Spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Friday evening that district leaders plan to have only 10 percent of schools take the PARCC, the new state-mandated test that is geared to the Common Core standards. McCaffrey called it an expanded pilot and said that the schools taking the PARCC will be representative of the entire district.

He said he was not immediately certain of the possible consequences for CPS. State officials, who have insisted that all school districts in Illinois administer the PARCC to all students, said they will continue to work with Chicago.

New Governor Bruce Rauner has not taken a stand on the PARCC or whether the state should go forward with full implementation. Several states that originally said they were going to administer the PARCC have pulled out and now only 11 states are still committed, according to PARCC’s website.

“It is a big victory for right now,” said Raise Your Hand’s Wendy Katten. Katten’s group, More than A Score, and other active parents fought diligently against the PARCC. They gathered more than 4,000 signatures on a petition and met with more than 20 legislators.

The parent groups argued that the PARCC is not yet ready to be rolled out, asserting that the test questions are confusing and the test is too long. In general, the groups also are against high-stakes standardized testing.

While the delay is something to celebrate now, Katten said it could be short-lived if the PARCC isn’t improved and the state insists on keeping it for next school year. Katten said her group will continue to push for a bill allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. As it is now, students must refuse the tests themselves.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Elementary who helped lead a testing boycott last year, said she thinks CPS made the decision because they were afraid that large numbers of parents would have their children opt out.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Teachers Union approved a resolutionencouraging teachers to talk to parents about their option to opt their children out of taking the PARCC. Last year, CPS officials threatened teachers who participated in the boycott with disciplinary action, although according to Chambers, none was ever taken.

In October, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett publically announced that she wanted a delay of the PARCC. In the letter, she said that CPS’ pilot of the PARCC last year had “yielded generally positive results.”

The main reason why Byrd-Bennett wrote that she didn’t want to implement the PARCC is that the district planned to continue giving elementary school students the NWEA and high school students the ACT. As they have been for the past few years, the NWEA and the ACT were to be used for district accountability purposes, such as school ratings and promotion.

“The testing demands on students and the burdens on teachers and principals with the addition of the PARCC will be overwhelming,” she wrote in her letter to ISBE.

However, she had already been told by the state that the district will not be granted a waiver.

State Superintendent Christopher Koch has insisted that the PARCC has been vetted enough. Further, he said the state could face sanctions or other consequences if it does not administer the PARCC. Federal law requires that states administer a test aligned with standards to students. State law requires that students take the PARCC by this school year.

In his weekly message from the first week of January, Koch included a letter from the federal government outlining the consequences that the state could face for not having every district give the same standardized test. The consequences ranged from a letter to financial sanctions.

Still, it is unclear what if anything the state or federal government will do to CPS, considering it is so large. Last year, the state of California took a “snow” year on standardized testing and it was not sanctioned.

Melissa Sanchez contributed to this story.
Photo: Standardized test/Shutterstock