Blog by Mason Johnson

In case you were wondering, the headline was meant to be accompanied by a melodramatic “dun dun dun.” Feel free to add your own.

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Even though Chicago’s schoolchildren have been forced to take the highly criticized PARCC standardized test, the world hasn’t imploded. Of course, complete destruction was never in the cards. With critics arguing the PARCC test is poorly designed and not field-tested, the biggest worry on educators’ minds was that it would waste weeks of otherwise valuable class time.

For children who want to opt out, PARCC means hours of sitting in silence and possibly, at worst, an intimidating guilt trip.

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While some states have created legislation clearly defining the opt out process for parents, Illinois has yet to do so (though State Rep. Guzzardi has just introduced a bill). As the foggy opt out rules currently work, parents aren’t supposed to opt out their children or take them out of class. Children themselves have to refuse the test, in person, in class.

This has led to a small handful of children at schools across Chicago opting out, leaving them to sit silently for hours on end as their classmates take the test. Have you ever sat silently in a desk with nothing to do but stare at a wall for an entire day? If this experience sounds terrible to you, imagine what it’s like for a 10-year-old.

At one Chicago school, a group of students’ attempt to opt out turned into a major guilt-trip, said one anonymous teacher.

According to her, over a dozen kids in a classroom declared they wanted to opt out. How’d that go for them? To change their mind, administration “intimidated” them into taking the test, “shaming” them and putting them on a “guilt trip,” until most of the kids changed their minds. The threat they had to endure? They were told to pick their favorite teacher. Once they had someone in mind, they were then told that their favorite teacher would likely be fired if they didn’t take the test.

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After that little exercise, only a couple of the kids stuck to their guns.

This doesn’t only show how terrible conditions can be for students, but also displays the pressure administrators and principals are under to ensure as many kids take PARCC as possible. When you start manipulating kids so blatantly, you’ve got to be pretty desperate.

But that is just one school. From what I hear, things are less dramatic at most other schools. One teacher I talked to mentioned that her school had some minor tech issues, but that no one, to her knowledge, had opted out yet. A principal at a different school said they had fewer than 10 kids opt out.

When I asked another teacher if anyone was opting out at her school, she laughed and jokingly replied, “I don’t think my principal would allow that. We basically have the opposite of Blaine’s principal.”

Blaine Elementary School, unlike most schools, ended up providing an opt out form for students to print out courtesy of their PTA.

“Basically everyone is doing it,” the teacher went on. “Slogging through knowing full well it wastes everyone’s time and resources.”

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