Confusion Continues Over Standardized Testing In Chicago

Last year, after thousands of Illinois parents signed a petition to delay standardized tests, Chicago Public Schools promised parents they would only administer new standardized tests to 10% of its schools. While the city continues to maintain that this is the plan, some teachers and principals have their doubts.

The test in question, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), was heavily scrutinized in November 2014. Multiple public school administrators questioned whether Illinois schools have the technology and the manpower to administer the computer-heavy test. And more than 4,000 parents were so concerned about PARCC, they sent a petition to the Illinois State Board of Education demanding the ISBE acquire a waiver from the US Department of Education to delay the tests.

The pilot program was the solution CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett presented Chicagoans. 66 schools, or about 10 percent of schools, would take the test, allowing the city to better judge how to improve and implement the test in the future.

Despite this intention, teachers at schools across the city were sent an email Monday morning with instructions on how to prepare for the PARCC.

“… We already have a testing schedule and a mandatory meeting for it this week,” one teacher, who says their school has not been told they’re in the designated 10 percent, told me.

The emails teachers received included two powerpoint presentations to help them prepare; one was 63 slides, the second was 51. For many teachers, it looked like they were about to go from not having to prepare their students for the test, to preparing the gigantic undertaking of the PARCC at the very last minute. Time wasn’t the only constraint, some teachers complained that they didn’t have the required resources to administer the test, while others told me there may not be enough staff to do so.

But are their fears true? Will they have to move forward with PARCC?

According to CPS officials on Tuesday, PARCC will not be administered citywide. They still intend to only administer it to 10 percent of Chicago schools.

This is despite threats from both the state and federal governments.

In a recent letter, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Christopher Koch emphasized that CPS could put the entire state at risk of losing federal funds if Chicago students don’t take PARCC. According to an unpublicized letter from the federal government, up to $1.17 billion could potentially be cut.

This leaves school districts with two terrible choices: Administer a test that parents, teachers and city officials consider a fiasco, or risk losing large amounts of federal funding. And while some states allow parents to opt their children out of standardized tests, that is not the case for Illinois, since the state has yet to pass a law on the issue.

The Mayor’s Office, as of Tuesday, confirmed the same plan as CPS: to only administer the test to 66 schools.

For teachers and principals, things have seemed less certain.

According to principals I talked to, CPS has been telling principals and administrators to prepare for the PARCC for the last two weeks, since all schools would be taking the test. This was despite the earlier declaration stating otherwise. In recent weeks, even when CPS has told administrators that all schools would not be taking PARCC, they’ve also explained that every school in CPS has to be ready to take it, regardless of whether they’re one of the 66. On Monday, principals were sent an email: CPS would not be administering PARCC to all schools. With that said, principals across the city are responsible for ensuring their school is ready for the PARCC, even if they’re told their school isn’t taking it.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and present at a meeting with city and education officials regarding PARCC on Monday night, said that PARCC will not be tested citywide. According to Berry, the test in its current form cannot be done “quickly and efficiently.”

“It’s an 11-hour test where the infrastructure is not there,” Berry told me, emphasizing that similar opinions were echoed by city officials, CPS and the Chicago Teacher’s Union.

It bears pointing out that these groups, along with the CPAA, rarely have unanimous opinions on anything.

At this point, it seems extremely unlikely CPS will backpedal and change their minds. So why all the confusion?

From the sound of it, based on conversations I’ve had with multiple principals and officials, the certainty to stick with this plan wasn’t solid until last night. And even though this plan seems definite now, CPS is still in the process of determining which 66 schools will be in the lucky 10 percent to have to take the PARCC. With such a short amount of time to prepare — the practice tests are supposed to start next week — and the schools still undetermined, it’s no wonder that all schools are being forced to prepare.

In 2010, 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, were originally committed to rollout PARCC in the future.

As of 2015, 13 of those states have withdrawn for various reasons.

Following concerns from parents, New Jersey on Monday voted to halt PARCC. Mississippi opted out of PARCC last year, and is now considering full repeal of Common Core from the state. South Dakota is voting Tuesday on whether to repeal Common Core or not. Indiana, which opted out of Common Core last year, had to recently call an emergency meeting to come to grips with their unruly student assessment plans, called ISTEP. Across the country, states are having trouble with both federal and state standardized tests, much to the anger of parents.

So no, Chicago and Illinois are not alone in their troubles with standardized tests. But will Chicago stay the course with PARCC, and if they do, will the state and federal governments punish Chicago for it?

One thing’s for sure: If on the unlikely off-chance all schools citywide do end up taking the PARCC, there will be a lot of angry parents who may regret who they voted for at the polls on Tuesday.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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