RYH testimony at Springfield PARCC Hearing 2/25/15

This is our written testimony. Because so many people were signed up to speak, we were asked to keep our spoken testimony to 1 minute each, so we had to pare down.

Re: Testimony to the Elementary and Secondary Education - School Curriculum and Policies Committee on the PARCC Assessment

Dear Legislators:

Raise Your Hand is a parent-led grassroots group based in Chicago with members across the state.  We launched a campaign to delay the PARCC after our group took several practice tests this summer. We held numerous community meetings and invited parents to take PARCC practice exams. Since then, over 6,100 people have signed our petition to delay the PARCC.  Our group has not taken a position on the Common Core but we have several concerns about the readiness of the PARCC exam:

Concerns:

  • The computer interface is clunky and difficult to use. One 3rd grade math item required students to click 42 squares to enter their answer.
  • Many of the questions we have seen are poorly written, with confusing instructions.
  • The test itself is too long  -- 10 hours for an 8 year old
  • Our schools will spend too much time administering the assessment. The testing windows cover much of March and much of May. While testing is conducted, valuable learning time is lost; computer rooms and libraries are unavailable to other students when being used for testing.
  • The reliability and validity of the assessment is uncertain. Either no validity studies from the field test were done or PARCC has not released these to the states; in our FOIA request to ISBE, we were told no such studies existed yet.  Technical advisors to PARCC warned that there could be performance differences based on the format (on-line v. pencil & paper) and type of device (desktop, small laptop, tablet)  students used. The PARCC field test report addressed none of these issues.
  • Districts have experienced technical glitches, with screens freezing, videos not downloading, etc. How do these interruptions affect scores? Either PARCC has this data and is not sharing it, or PARCC has never bothered to research the issue.

PARCC originally had 23 states in their consortium. They are now down to 8 states plus DC. Mississippi dropped out in January and, while using the test this year, is actively searching for a new test.

 

We have several serious concerns about the Illinois State Board of Education’s actions and policies around PARCC assessment:

  • Despite extensive protest from parents, districts and legislators, ISBE has never sought any type of flexibility, waiver or delay on PARCC testing this year.  The letter sent by Chris Koch on 11.25.2014 was not a request for a waiver. It was a request for information about what  ISBE could do without a waiver.

In comparison, in California both last year and this, when the state had concerns about the testing requirements of ESEA, the state requested flexibility from the federal government.  Last year, the federal government initially denied it, but eventually granted it.  Why won’t our state board and state superintendent act in the same way?

Here are some sample responses from California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst:

"There was a threat from the Department of Education to withhold money. We don't appreciate threats from the Federal Government." (Torlakson)

“ To the extent there is disagreement with the federal government, there is a process for addressing it, and we'll continue to work with officials in Washington. Federal officials have never before taken money out of classrooms, and we would hope and expect that they would not start now." (Kirst and Torlakson)

  • ISBE is picking and choosing which parts of ESEA and IL’s NCLB Waiver and IL state law to follow. Although they state we need to use PARCC for 3-8th grade math and reading for all schools and students, they have chosen to violate without asking permission or receiving flexibility:
  1. the requirement to assess students in science  in the current grade-cohorts of 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. These students will never take a science assessment in their grade-span, as NCLB requires, unless somehow ISBE manages to devise anew science assessment for grades 5, 8 or 9, and 12 by next spring No RFP for such a test has been issued.
  2. the testing of three grades of students in high school as they stated they would do in the NCLB waiver. Districts have been allowed to select any of the first three years to test.
  3. the requirement that testing is shown to be valid and reliable and justified in cost (IL School Code sec. 2-3.64a-5(i)  and ESEA Sec. 1111(b)(3)(C)(iii))

In addition, ISBE has violated the terms of state testing law in the past. From 2011 to 2013, ISBE failed to assess students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 8 in writing despite state law requiring it to do so.

  • ISBE has repeatedly waived the specter of loss of federal funds both in the discussion of a delay of PARCC and in the discussion of an opt out bill that would allow parents to protect their children from overtesting.  California,  Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin all permit parents to opt their children out of testing. None has been sanctioned for doing so. Why would ED treat Illinois differently?

No state has ever lost Title I funds for deliberately breaching the assessment requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) sec. 1111(b)(3)(C). At most, the U.S. Department of Education  has prevented state agencies from keeping a small part of the Title I funds at the state level; there has never been a net loss of funds.  Furthermore, there have never been any loss of funds or other negative consequence due to states not meeting participation mandates.

Recommendations:

Now that the testing window is around the corner, we ask that you sponsor legislation that protects students, schools and families from potential harm.

  • The NJ Assembly passed legislation this week that removes any high-stakes attached to PARCC for 3 years.  We need similar legislation here.
  • Support HB306, the opt-out bill
  • There needs to be a mechanism put in place for districts to indicate that all aspects of the technology works in their districts, or whether they need more support.
  • There ought to be a mandatory data collection from superintendents about whether or not the they think the testing infrastructure, instructions, and overall management is ready to start measuring actual student progress toward meeting the standards.

If we cannot eliminate this test in its current form, at least let parents protect their children from it.

Sincerely,

Wendy Katten

Cassandre Creswell on behalf of the Board of Raise Your Hand for IL Public Education

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