SPRINGFIELD — Students and parents in Illinois are upset over a standardized test that’s tied to nearly $1 billion in federal money.
Illinois schools are getting ready for the second round of PARCC testing, designed to quiz students from third to 11th grade on Illinois’ new learning standards.
Students, parents, teachers, school administrators and lawmakers have all blasted the test as a waste of classroom time and a front for data mining, for example.
Illinois is one of just 11 states to offer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, yet it’s is also part of a federal initiative that comes with federal money and federal strings.
So, the Illinois State Board of Education defends it.
“This is a test designed from the ground up to reflect the demands of the new learning standards and their emphasis on not just mastering content but being able to demonstrate and apply critical thinking to real-world issues,” Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch said in a news release last month.
“There is no opt-out allowed under either state or federal law. Our interpretation of federal law has always been that any opt-out provision in state law would violate federal law,” said Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for ISBE emailed Illinois Watchdog. “Students can refuse to take the test, but their parents can’t opt out their children in advance.”
ISBE is quick to remind schools in the state’s 900 districts that they must test 95 percent of their students.
Fergus said the state board sent warning letters to school districts saying more than 6 percent of students failing to take the test places the federal Title 1 money in jeopardy.
“The state can sit there and send threatening messages,” Prairieview-Ogden Elementary principal Jeff Isenhower said. “But if a parent chooses to opt their child out of (the test), who am I to argue with that?”
Isenhower is in charge of a small elementary school district in downstate Illinois, and he knows it wouldn’t take many kids to push his school below the 95 percent threshold.
“You’re talking to a person who saw two third-graders crying while taking the test,” Isenhower said. “I know they didn’t finish (the test). It breaks my heart. That they get so worked up over something that, honestly, we don’t know what weight it carries.”
Isenhower said he’ll allow parents to decide, but the approach to the PARCC test varies from school to school.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said common sense must prevail — from ISBE, the local school or the Legislature.
“It’s a mom and dad decision,” Barickman said. “But the state of Illinois may have to enable mom and dad to make that decision. It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Barickman hosted a community meeting earlier this month during which a couple hundred parents — and dozens of teachers and school administrators — bashed the PARCC test.
It shouldn’t be left to a few brave students to stand up to the educational bureaucracy.
“Is a 9-year-old really going to go to school and tell his teacher, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to sit this one out.’”
Benjamin Yount is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.