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Grassroots Group's Seminars Aim to Delay New CPS Tests

By Casey Cora | October 29, 2014 5:37am
  The rollout of a new standardized test is getting rushed, critics say. 
The rollout of a new standardized test is getting rushed, critics say. 
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CHICAGO — A grassroots public education group will host a series of seminars that aims to explain its opposition to a new rigorous standardized test slated for rollout across Chicago Public Schools next year.

The meetings take place from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at the ward service office of Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), 10400 S. Western Ave., and from 6-7:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Richard J. Daley branch of the Chicago Public Library, 3400 S. Halsted St. in Bridgeport. 

At issue for the group is the administration of a test from Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The new standardized test is designed to track students' progress for college and career readiness.

"We're going to touch upon all the tests that take place, then talk about PARCC. I'll be bringing in some sample questions to give a taste of what the test really is," said Jennie Biggs, a Bridgeport parent and activist with Raise Your Hand.

Casey Cora says the fight against this test has even allied parents groups with CPS brass:

Filled with detailed questions in math and literacy, the test is aligned with the Common Core curriculum, a new national educational standard that's been adopted in most states but has been widely criticized for a flawed, clunky rollout. 

Already, the PARCC assessment test has been implemented in a "field testing" phase in a handful of Chicago schools. It's slated for full implementation in March 2015. 

But the impending rollout is being rushed to the detriment of already test-fatigued students, Biggs said. 

Together with More Than a Score, another advocacy effort, Raise Your Hand is pushing for a moratorium on the test for at least another year and asking parents and teachers to join in the fight. Already, they've collected more than 1,700 signatures through an online petition calling for the delay. 

Biggs said the testing, a lengthy session of quizzes and essays that takes place entirely on computers and is split up in two seasonal sessions, is rigorous, confusing and time consuming. 

"The amount of time spent on this test alone is just crazy to me," Biggs said, adding that it would take her school-age kids upward of 11 hours to complete it. 

"I've talked about this at Local School Council meetings and parents have actually gasped when they've heard the length of time it takes," she said. 

What's more, some schools might not have the computers or the bandwidth required for the testing.

The volunteer-driven Raise Your Hand group has in the past been critical of decisions made by the school district's top brass, including the controversial closing of 50 public schools last year. 

But in the latest battle, they've found an ally in CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who last week pushed for a delay in the tests implementation across the district and to limit the number of schools involved in it, the Sun-Times reported.

One problem: The state's board of education has already said it can't delay the test. Doing so would jeopardize federal funding requested by the state, money that aids low-income students. 

Still, Byrd-Bennett joins a growing chorus of national education leaders who are balking at the test's implementation in American schools. 

And groups like Raise Your Hand are taking their campaign to the streets in hopes of affecting change at the city and state levels. They want parents to flood the Illinois Board of Education with requests asking for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to suspend the PARCC test next year. 

Biggs said "the information needs to spread and the way to that is word of mouth and talking face to face." 

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