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Will Parents Opt Their Kids Out Of PARCC Test Like Last Year?

School districts across the state either just gave the state mandated PARCC test, are giving it or are on the verge of giving it.

Once again this year, there is a strong movement to try to get students to refuse the PARCC. 

Last year, the first year the PARCC was administered, 35,000 students either refused the test or were absent when it was given, state data show.

That is way more than students than sat out previous state exams. In 2015, 4 percent of students didn’t take the test, compared to .5 percent in previous years, according to the Chicago Tribune. To comply with federal law, schools must have at least 95 percent of students take state exams. 

Opposition to the PARCC is high for several reasons. 

The PARCC is aligned with Common Core standards, which are national standards. Some parents think the PARCC and other Common Core tests are too difficult and too long. 

Angela Kahl, a mother and former teacher who lives in unincorporated Crystal Lake, says she is against the PARCC because it is not developmentally appropriate. 

She says test scores show education officials what they already know. 

“Forty years of standardized testing have shown us very clearly that poor schools don’t do well on standardized testing and more affluent schools do better,” she says. 

But for more middle to upper to middle class suburban parents, the biggest selling point to opting out seems to be that the test doesn’t mean much for students individually. PARCC is being used for the state’s accountability system, but that doesn’t hold much weight. 

Kahl says she's been handing out fliers. She recently blanketed a fundraiser at a local McDonalds. Afterwards, she says she got dozens of likes on the Facebook page

She is expecting more students will refuse the test in her district than the handful that did last year. 

“I think it will grow exponentially,” she says. 

Nicole Keough, a mom of fourth grade twin boys who lives in Palos Heights, also says she thinks more students will opt out in her area than last year. She says the south suburbs are a bit behind with the opt out movement. 

But she created a website that has hundreds of members. 

The efforts of parents like this leaves suburban school districts not knowing what to expect. Township High School District 214 officials were surprised last year when hundreds of students opted out, says Jeffrey Smith, head of research and accountability for the district.

He says he remembers standing outside of a classroom and hearing the students convince each other to refuse the test. 

“I am going to refuse the test, You refuse the test too,” he says, describing what he heard last year. 

Last year, the Arlington Heights school district gave the PARCC to juniors. But this year, they are giving it to freshmen. 

Smith says they think juniors felt like they had to take too many tests with the college entrance and Advanced Placement exams. He is hoping that freshmen won’t have that excuse. 

Only half of the school district’s students took the test last year, putting the school district out of compliance. He says he wants to be in compliance.

That being said, Smith has yet to find much value in the test. “The verdict is still out on whether PARCC can be done well and whether it means anything,” he says. 

Chicago Public School officials are taking a hard line against opting out this year. They won’t let opt out advocates hold meetings on school campuses. They also told principals they can kick those passing out fliers off school grounds and, if they don’t leave, the principals an call the police. 

Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson says that the district could “face serious consequences” if not enough students take the test. Already CPS is in battle with the state over funding and failure to get enough students to participate in the PARCC could give the state another reason to withhold state funding, she says. 

But Cassie Creswell, who is part of the opt out advocacy group More than a Score, stresses that no school has been penalized financially for not having enough students test. 

More than a Score held meetings across the city to inform parents about the PARCC. Also, parents and teachers have been handing out fliers before and after school. 

But Creswell notes that, with the impending one-day strike and schools grappling with budget cuts, parents have a lot of things on their mind. 

She tries to get them to see how it is all connected. 

“At this point schools are literally running out of things like copy paper,” she says. “It is fundamentally unfair to say we should measuring schools on the basis of this test when we are under resourcing them.”

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation

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