BRONZEVILLE — Parents at Mollison Elementary School are furious after they said Chicago Public Schools administrators pressured students to take a new standardized test after their parents asked they be exempted.
Jeanette Taylor, the chairwoman of the local school council, said that, at the group’s Wednesday night meeting, about 40 students said they were asked to verbally tell administrators, including CPS Network Chief Janice Jackson, that they would not take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam before being exempted from the 10-hour test.
Taylor said her fourth-grade son, Michael, who has autism, was required to say he would not take the test before being allowed out, despite a signed form from his mother.
“Michael kept telling them he’s opting [out],” said Taylor, who said she did not want him taking the test after taking a practice exam herself and finding the questions poorly written and inappropriate for his grade level.
Taylor said the parents of 125 of the 460 students at Mollison had signed forms asking their child not take the PARCC exam, but she said she now thinks that number is much smaller after hearing from students third through eighth grade who felt pressured to take the test.
CPS said no student was forced to take the test.
"Chicago Public Schools is required to present the PARCC test to every eligible student and we encourage all students to participate in the assessment," said Lauren Huffman, a spokeswoman for CPS. "We have provided school administrators with guidance regarding student refusal of the test, and provide alternate accommodations for students in these situations."
The PARCC exam, which replaces the shorter Illinois Standard Achievement Test, started on Monday for CPS students. The test covers reading and math and is designed to be more closely aligned with the new Common Core standards.
The test will be used to grade schools and districts at the state level. The Illinois State Board of Education does not allow parents to stop schools from giving the kids the test, but says students themselves can refuse.
Anna Jones, who kept her third-grade son, Tanner, home from Mollison so he wouldn’t have to take the test, said the test "longer and more confusing than the ISAT ever was.”
CPS had asked to the Illinois State Board of Education to give the test to a tenth of its students this year so the district would have time to beef up computers and test prep before full implementation of the exam next year.
The state board rebuffed CPS' request and said the district could lose more than $1 billion in state and federal funding if it did not test all students.
"It is unfortunate that ISBE’s limited guidance on this matter has placed the burden of refusing the test on students, but we are obligated to follow ISBE’s direction by administering the test to avoid sanctions that would pose devastating financial consequences to the district," Huffman said.
Taylor and other parents at Mollison said they thought CPS’ hesitance to start the test would mean little interference from administrators at the school, which has 30 computers to administer the test to 250 middle school students. Students in third through fifth grade will take the test using pencil and paper.
The school at 4415 S. Martin Luther King Drive is still adjusting to doubling its student body after Overton Elementary School was closed in 2013. The school's budget was reduced by $240,000 for the 2013-2014 school year, which meant the loss of one of two computer labs and other cuts.
CPS disputed that the school lost any computers during the cuts and pointed to two new carts of laptops and iPads provided to the school when Overton kids came into the school in 2013.
Taylor said nearly all of those laptops and iPads were stolen out of the library during a break-in in January 2013. She said a portion were recovered or replaced, but the school is still short on computers.
“Mollison was not ready under any circumstances to take the test,” Taylor said. “The computers didn’t even work on the first day.”
According to CPS, testing for all sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Mollison will be rescheduled due to computer problems during the test.
She and other parents said they now hope the test ends quickly so students can start preparing for the Northwest Evaluation Association MAP exam, which is one of the criteria weighed for students applying to selective-enrollment high schools.
“That’s the test that counts,” said Taylor, who also has a daughter in seventh grade at Mollison. “That’s the test that our seventh-graders are going to use to decide what high school to go to.”
The NWEA MAP exam, normally given in April, has been pushed back to May by CPS to allow for the PARCC exam to be given.
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