The head of Chicago’s public schools says that she wants to slam the brakes on Common Core-aligned standardized tests immediately, even though state officials have already tried to tell her that’s simply not possible.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Wednesday at a city school board meeting that standardized tests created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are being forced into the classroom too quickly, without anybody knowing if they would improve instruction. She said said that she at least wanted the city to keep the test as a “pilot program” for an additional year in order to improve and better understand it before its full adoption.
“The purpose of standardized assessments is to inform instruction,” Byrd-Bennett said. “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.”
Several principals in the city, she said, had complained to her during field testing last spring that the tests took too long to administer and absorbed too much valuable teaching time.
The Chicago public school system had already looked into getting an exemption from PARCC tests last July, but the notion was shot down by Illinois’s Board of Education, which said such an exemption would be illegal because of the dictates of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The law mandates that each state administer identical tests to all children in the state from grades 3-8, as well as once in high school. If Illinois were to ignore the requirement, it would lose millions of dollars in federal education funding.
However, Byrd-Bennet is undeterred and says she is reaching out to the federal Department of Education to see if some kind of special arrangement can be made to delay the city’s adoption of PARCC.
While PARCC is not itself mandated or even promoted by the Common Core multistate education standards, the two are heavily intertwined and share advocates in the field of education. Common Core backers say that by allowing states to directly compare each other’s test scores, PARCC will help further Common Core’s goal of standardizing educational goals among the different states.
The effort to abandon PARCC in Chicago stings more than it would in most cities, because the city is the former stomping ground of both President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who have been big backers of both Common Core and the PARCC exam (Duncan called the latter an “absolute game-changer”). Through the federal Race to the Top program, PARCC has already received over $100 million in federal funds to develop a multistate standardized test aligned with Common Core. (RELATED: Chicago Teachers’ Union Says Improving Schools is Racist)
While NCLB likely means that Byrd-Bennet’s denunciation will go nowhere on its own, the attack is yet another major blow to the PARCC consortium. Four years ago, it peaked with a total of 26 states participating in some capacity. Since then, that number has dwindled with multiple states dropping out. This past spring, 14 states took part in field tests for the exam, testing out new practice questions so they can be evaluated for a full launch next year. However, the field tests were alleged by some teachers to have been wracked by difficulties, especially with new computerized tests.
Since the pilot exams, Arizona has with withdrawn from the consortium as well, while in Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is locked in a series of contentious lawsuits against his own board of education over an attempt to pull that state out as well. Criticism is also escalating in New York and Colorado, raising the possibility that by next year PARCC could be down to 10 or fewer participating states, barely one-third of its peak. (RELATED: Arizona Ditches Common Core Testing Consortium)
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