Illinois parents call for ‘opt-out’ on PARCC testing

By Dennis LaComb and Fran Eaton

March 10, 2015

CHICAGO – Parents and state lawmakers are calling on the Illinois General Assembly to allow parents of public school students to have some say in their children’s education. They’re asking the legislature to allow them to opt out of state-mandated academic tests such as the controversial PARCC testing.

The State Board of Education notified schools that students themselves may refuse to take the PARCC tests, but no provision is in place for parents to opt their children out of the testing.

Illinois public and participating private schools will begin this week administering the PARCC testing associated with the “Common Core” curriculum. Beginning with grade 3, up to 20 hours of instructional time will be used to administer the required tests.

At the behest of frustrated parents, freshman State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) introduced HB 306 to allow parents to refuse the tests on behalf of their children.  Guzzardi’s bill passed out of committee, and he and the bill’s co-sponsors are optimistic they will be able to gather the needed 60 votes to pass the bill out of the House.

“It’s not only the PARCC testing parents are concerned about. There’s a growing and widespread frustration with the broader regime of standardized tests,” Guzzardi said at a press conference Monday.

“Parents, so many parents, have spoken to me and many of my colleagues, telling us how they feel their students are being deprived of quality instructional time or important academic opportunities in the classroom for the sake of preparing for tests and sitting for tests,” he said.

Administrators say the PARCC tests take no additional time away from instruction because the students are being assessed on the curriculum they are being taught.

Guzzardi says that’s simply not true. “…We’ve heard from students that have had to sit out of the classroom instruction for up to six hours just to be prepared for the logging in and the computerized administration of the test,” he said.

All parents can do is tell their children to refuse to take it.  If the students do not take the tests, their scores won’t be counted negatively towards their school or their district, according to the State Board of Education.

Having students go to school as young as eight years old and refuse the test causes complications. One child was told if he was not going to take the test, he would need to “sit and stare” while the tests were given.

“We’re spending so much time prepping our kids for tests and testing,” said Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago). “There are nearly 40 tests for kids before second grade.”

Brownsville parent Brenda Delgado said her fifth grade daughter would not be participating in the ten plus hours of PARCC testing that has not been proven valid or reliable.  She said the questions are ambiguous and written two years behind normal reading levels.

And, she said, there is no consistent way of handling PARCC testing.  “What we need is consistently and clarity, which is why we need the parents’ opt-out bill,” says Delgado.

Karen Yarbrough of Oak Park said her son’s school principal decided her child would be punished by being made to “sit and stare” for refusing to take the PARCC test. “Children should be treated humanely and respectfully for asserting their rights,” she argues.

“Every parent should have the absolute right to determine whether their children should take PARCC,” said mother of seven Christina Nolan. “Parents should not be bullied into accepting something they do not feel is right for their child.”

The point is that no clear guidance has been set up on how the schools will deal with children that don’t take the tests, claims Guzzardi. “They’re just winging it and there’s no clear guidance, which is why this bill is so crucially important.”

Teacher Jeanette Kling of Villa Park was told her fourth grade son will have to log in on the computer, and then verbally refuse to take the test this week. After he refuses to take the test, he will be left to “meditate or nap” at his station for the duration of the testing. No books or educational materials will be allowed.

“I am disappointed my son will be sitting at his desk for 13 hours with no stimulating activity,” she said. “No child should be made to feel he is choosing between disobeying his parents’ wishes and defying his school.”

Angela Cahl, a McHenry Community College instructor, said her son’s school board attorney told her, “No alternate instruction will be provided to your children if they opt not to complete the PARCC assessment. If your children are present in school when PARCC is administered, your children will be expected to complete the assessment. If they choose not to, they must sit quietly until the assessment is concluded. They will not be allowed to bring a book or any other reading materials with them to the testing site.”

Both of Cahl’s daughters had to refuse to take the tests in front of their peers. The test will continue until March 17th, and her daughters must refuse to take the test every day they are administered – a total of 20 hours of sitting and doing nothing at their desks.

“My children deserve better – our children deserve better,” Cahl said. “I ask everyone to support HB 306.”

This article was written by contributors of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.