Chicago Sun-Times: Illinois House passes opt-out bill aimed at PARCC testing

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/619602/illinois-house-passes-opt-out-bill-aimed-at-parcc-testing

By Natasha Korecki

May 19, 2015

Illinois House members advanced a bill that would give parents a formal way to opt out of state tests such as the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

House members voted 64-47 with one person voting present. The measure now moves to the Senate.

The extensive debate over the bill on Tuesday spun into a broader discussion over how lawmakers believe the state’s only standardized test is deeply flawed. Lawmakers expressed frustration that the state remains on the hook for a four-year, $160 million contract to a firm to administer the test.

The test’s length, along with technological problems, has prompted groups of parents across the state wanting their children to sit out. But there’s no clear way for parents to communicate to teachers about their desires to opt out and there’s nothing on the books laying out alternate activities for students who opt out. Some schools adopted “sit and stare” policies that has students who opted out sitting idle for up to 11 hours, lawmakers complained.

“This bill wouldn’t take PARCC away. Opt-out’s happening, it happened last year, it happened this year, it will happen next year whether we pass this bill or not,” state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said.  ”All this bill does is create a clear process and take the student out of the role as the decision maker.”

Guzzardi, sponsor of HB306, said that now if parents think the state standardized test is inappropriate they tell their children to refuse to take the test, putting them in an awkward position. Some older students are opting out on their own without consulting their parents.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a longtime supporter of the school reform movement, has threatened to veto the opt-out bill and has been leaning on Republican lawmakers to vote “no.” The governor’s administration worries Illinois could lose federal funding for poor students — or local control over that money — if more than 5 percent of students statewide refuse to take the PARCC.

Raise Your Hand, a parent group in Chicago, has been lobbying for the opt-out law, saying it’s unfair not to let parents make decisions about their children’s education and ineffective to make children sit in silence while classmates are testing. The group also believes PARCC, at up to 11 hours long, eats up too much instructional time.

“We’re asking third-graders to show up and say no to their teacher,” Guzzardi said. “We’re asking students with developmental disabilities to show up and say no to their teacher.”

Beyond that, Guzzardi argues that having a process on the books would urge schools to allow the students who sit out to have an alternate activity, such as doing work in a library. Right now, some districts have “sit and stare” policies, where students who are not taking the test sit and stare at a wall, Guzzardi said.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, opposed the measure, arguing that it puts the state at risk over losing federal funding, which she estimated at $1.3 billion.

“The only test that the state mandates is PARCC. Those other tests . . . those come from the local school districts, not from us,” Currie said. Currie said numerous national groups have said the PARCC tests is the only way to gauge “how poorly we educated children in subgroups,” including special education, poor and minority students.

But Guzzardi said six other states have already put opt-out laws on the books and have not lost a dime in federal funding.

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, was one of a number of state lawmakers who expressed how much they disliked the PARCC test as the state’s only standardized gauge.

“PARCC and Common Core are two of the worst conceived projects in state history,” Kay said. “This is a failed test. Nobody understands it. The kids don’t understand it . Teachers don’t understand it. . . . I think it is a canard.”

State Rep. Ken Dunkin raised issues over the cost of PARRC, saying the four-year contract with NCS Pearson to develop and administer the test means the state is on the hook for about $160 million for a test that is deeply flawed.

Other lawmakers raised concerns that federal funding would be at risk if too many students opt out of taking the standardized test. But Guzzardi said the law says otherwise.

“There is no federal law that says that our state has to test 95 percent of our students,” Guzzardi said. “There was, but Illinois has obtained a waiver on that law.”