School Issues: The PARCC Revolt of 2015
The Ohio Department of Education has issued a primer for parents who are considering opting their children out of the upcoming state PARCC performance tests. The opening paragraph says:
“There is no law that allows a parent or student to opt out of state testing and there is no state test opt-out procedure or form. If a parent withdraws his or her child’s participation in certain state tests, there may be consequences for the child, the child’s teacher, and the school and district.”
That’s true. There is also no specific Ohio law tailored to allow children to refuse to eat Doritos. Nor is there a state-issued Doritos Opt Out Form. And there are, indeed, consequences for choices such as opting out of Doritos. In fact, there are consequences for buying from Amazon, and breathing too. Consequences tend to occur in a world world governed by the laws of cause and effect.
So, it might not be surprising that parents are choosing to opt their children out of PARCC tests anyway. Reports of big waves of parental refusals are surfacing in areas such as Cleveland and Cincinnati. And now the revolt has hit Columbus.
Parents at Indianola K-8 have organized a boycott of PARCC testing that, at last count, included at least thirty families. The parents in the boycott cite a variety of reasons; student test anxiety, poorly worded questions, and hours spent in testing at the expense of learning.
There’s also the fact that the outcomes of the testing will never be disclosed to teachers, as parent Kelly Chellis observed, “Test scores for this year will not be available until next November; teachers never see the scored tests. (It) makes the test seem rather worthless for student improvement.”
As an Indianola parent and as a professor, Mollie Blackburn expressed growing concerns about test-centered curricula. She’s seen the lasting impact it has on students when they reach college and says it can leave young adults unable to think independently and problem-solve.
Meanwhile, another parent adds a message for the state. Tammy Birk said, “I want to send a clear message to the state legislature that I am not supportive of their efforts to outsource a growing amount of my child’s assessment to a private company that has developed a standardized test that demands an inordinate amount of preparation and prohibits teachers from creating the lessons that will actually keep my daughter alive in her learning.”
As she implies, the PARCC tests are a money maker for Pearson. It produces and sells both the tests and the preparatory text books. The upcoming wave of testing is being termed a “trial” by the publishing giant. That is, public school students will be used as experimental subjects to optimize the test-maker’s ability to make money.
Ohio law protects schools and districts from the outcome of these experiments. The fact that the upcoming testing is a “trial” also speaks to the ambiguity of the state-suggested consequences. By their very nature, trials have undetermined consequences.
Indianola isn’t the only school with parents who are opting out. Erica Fiedman DiPaolo’s children go to school on the Northwest end. For her, the choice was clear: “When I did some research, I could not find one single benefit to taking the test. It doesn’t go towards (a) grade at all.”
It’s not just parents who are opting out. Private schools, typically excluded from standardized testing concerns, are issuing statements too. At Bishop Watterson, parents received a letter about PARCC testing that said, “Because we value academic classroom time we have chosen not to spend almost twenty hours on non-required standardized testing. We prefer to use those hours actually teaching our students.”
On a national level, Ohio is one of the few (10) states remaining on board with PARCC. The other states originally in the compact have opted out and pulled their children from Pearson’s testing system. Critics suggest that Ohio’s dedication to PARCC is part of a state-sponsored business stimulus package. Pearson does have a major division here in Columbus, Ohio.
It might seem that opt-out decisions would alienate parents from school staff, Indianola parent Audra Phillips has found that the opposite has occurred, “At our school, the opt out choice has increased parent involvement and communication with teachers, administration, and parents.” Another parent said that the school is devising a plan for opting-out students that includes working with younger grades as tutors and reading buddies; learning will continue.
Jessica Starr’s family is in the boycott too, she says they hope to see more parents and teachers take a stand in the next few days, and change the system and its emphasis on high-stakes testing.
For more information, visit www.parcconline.org.
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