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Special Education, the PARCC Test, and Opting Out

Commonly attributed to Albert Einstein

Published in ChicagoNow, February 11, 2015

Just how should a student with special needs that include significant communication and anxiety disorders express his desire to opt out of the Partnership in Assessment for College and Careers (PARCC) exam? Will throwing his laptop across the room count? How about banging his head on his desk? Does he need to scream or cry or become so dysregulated that he spends the entire school day in the Occupational Therapy room? Will the school then rinse and repeat, day after day, in an effort to administer a flawed and meaningless test?

The parents of this child wrote to their school district requesting that he be allowed to opt out of taking PARCC. The test will cause huge meltdowns and stress for their child, who thrives on routine. It will take a ridiculous amount of time to administer because of accommodations allowing him to take extra time with testing. All of this is precious lost teaching time, which the child desperately needs, and will yield no usable information to inform his instructional program.

The school district denied the parents’ request. Although the district acknowledges there are concerns about the PARCC assessment, the response to all parental letters is the same. Parents can’t opt out for their children. Federal and state law requires that every child be presented the state assessment. The child needs to refuse to take it.

This child, who has so much difficulty with expressive language, has to verbally refuse to sit for PARCC. How ridiculous that this is required from a special education student who can’t speak effectively for himself. I guess rules are rules.

But maybe not. School districts seem to be as confused as parents about the law and the consequences of not administering PARCC. Here are a few interesting facts:

  • Yes, the law states that schools must offer the PARCC to students in grades 3-8 plus one grade in high school.

  • The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) states in Code 15 that children cannot be forced to take the test. They can simply say, “no thank you.”

So, this is a question of what is a reasonable accommodation for a special education student with expressive language difficulties. It seems to me a letter from his parents should suffice, as they generally have to advocate for their son.

PARCC has been part of an ongoing game of ping-pong with no winners, pitting parents, school districts, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and the Federal Department of Education (DOE) against one another.

There is a movement among parents to “Park the PARCC.” Parents feel their children are being tested to death, and that high stakes standardized tests like PARCC drive the curriculum, as educators feel pressured to teach to the test. Their children are being drilled on the things PARCC measures, often to the detriment of a balanced education. Social studies, the arts, and even science take a back seat to the heavy math/reading aspects of Common Core instruction.

Some school districts, including Chicago Public Schools (CPS), have requested a waiver from administering PARCC in March because they are not ready. Many schools throughout the state have not fully implemented the Common Core Curriculum PARCC purports to test. Many do not have the computers and technology required for the test.

The ISBE defers to the DOE that punts the issue back to the ISBE. Basically, the DOE threatens loss of federal funding if the test is not administered and the ISBE tells school districts they must comply.

There is some hope. On January 26, Illinois State Representative Will Guzzardi introduced HB 0306, which would give parents the right to opt their kids out of state standardized testing without penalty for children, teachers, schools or districts. Representative Jamie Andrade is the co-sponsor. Guzzardi met with the ISBE recently, and ISBE is not supportive. The state is claiming that the federal government will not accept such a law. If that is true, why are there laws and regulations in other states (California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, Virginia, Idaho, Oregon, and Nebraska) that allow parents to opt out?

I am wondering if Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch or U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have any children with special needs who have received special education services. I doubt it. If they did, they would understand why parents who have worked so hard to obtain the best possible services for their child want to opt out of PARCC. They would empathize with parents who have to advocate for a child who cannot do it for himself. They would see how a test like this would totally demoralize a child with special needs. And they would listen to and respect the choices parents make for their children.


by Laurie Levy
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