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A Test No One Wants to Give but Everyone has to Take

Photo by Anthony Quinn

Published in ChicagoNow, October 28, 2014

Suppose a new children’s cereal came on the market. Its manufacturer claims it is great for kids. It will make them smarter and more prepared for college and career. The cereal has no label of ingredients and the has never been tested to see if it’s safe. You only have the manufacturer’s claim that it’s a good product. Your local market is selling it because if it refuses to do so, the market will be shut down by the Health Department.

Would you buy it for your child? Hopefully, your answer is a resounding NO. But that is just what the State of Illinois expects parents, teachers, and school districts to do this spring when they administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (or PARCC) test. PARCC is a nationally standardized assessment that supposedly measures student mastery of the Common Core curriculum. It is one more test for our children to grind through, but like my mythical cereal, the manufacturers of the test, textbook and assessment publishing giants Pearson and McGraw Hill, have no data to ensure consumers that the test is a good thing for kids.

What we do know about PARCC is that it will be stressful and difficult for children. In addition to questions that are not age appropriate, it requires a tremendous amount of classroom time to teach kids how to take it on a computer. You can be sure it will drive the curriculum for the entire school year. Children will learn only what’s being tested and no more.

Let’s return to the cereal analogy for a moment. Imagine your child has a variety of food allergies. Would you even consider buying that unlabeled cereal? I’m sure you would be even more opposed to trying it. But children with special needs also have to take the PARCC test. And that makes even less sense than giving it to typically developing kids.

I spoke with a special educator who is very concerned about how this test will impact the children with whom she works. All kids will need to be taught how to take the PARCC, but kids with special needs are supposed to receive “appropriate adaptations.” The problem is, no one knows what those adaptations should be. For example, the computer aspect will make the exam very difficult for children who have visual tracking or fine motor issues. For students who are English language learners (ELL) with a home language other than Spanish, an adaptation suggested by the State of Illinois is to read the directions in English but slowly and loudly. No comment.

Surely, this test will be demoralizing to kids with special needs. But it will likely be harmful to the self-esteem of typical kids as well. Last spring, the PARCC was rolled out in New York schools with disastrous results. The entire process is mysterious when it should be transparent. Even worse, the time spent teaching to and preparing for the PARCC test is time lost to addressing all children’s educational needs. So, you might wisely ask, why not drop the test?

According to the Chicago Tribune,

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said testing and test preparation risked “dominating the calendar and culture of schools and causing undue stress for students and educators.”

President Barack Obama also expressed support for cutting back unnecessary testing.

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett recently told the school board she wanted to ask the federal government to delay the rollout of PARCC because, “At present, too many questions remain about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment strategies.”

Unfortunately, the Illinois State Board of Education already said the testing must go forward. You may wonder why. The answer is money. If Illinois refuses to administer the PARCC exam, the state will lose federal funding.

So here we are, stuck with giving a test to kids this spring that anyone connected with education thinks is a bad idea. And here I am asking why?


by Laurie Levy
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