Who organized suburban PARCC boycott?
Hundreds refuse to take PARCC tests in District 214; smaller boycotts at other local school districts
Across the suburbs, hundreds of students are opting out of the new PARCC tests. While it's not clear if the objection is coming from students, parents or both, it does seem to be an organized effort.
"It is our belief that the PARCC participation decision in some buildings was a parent- and student-led effort," said Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent David Schuler.
Enough students have refused to take the test in District 214, that it likely will not meet the 95 percent testing threshold set by the state, Schuler said Thursday night. At other suburban districts, there were more isolated examples of boycotts.
Schuler addressed the issue at Thursday night's school board meeting, saying that while the staff has encouraged students to take the test, many across the district's six high schools refused, echoing a nationwide trend of students boycotting the newly implemented testing.
"Neither the board nor I have said we are anti-PARCC, neither did we in any way encourage students not to participate in the new state-required assessment," Schuler said. "All staff members are required by law to implement the new state assessment with fidelity and it is my belief that we did just that."
Schuler said hundreds of students at Rolling Meadows High School refused the test, along with another group at Hersey and a smaller number of students at Buffalo Grove and Prospect high schools. Implementation at Elk Grove and Wheeling high schools was near 100 percent.
District 214 officials cannot yet confirm exactly how many students boycotted the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test because makeup tests for students who were absent are ongoing.
"It is our belief that the PARCC participation decision in some buildings was a parent- and student-led effort," Schuler said.
At Rolling Meadows, Schuler said he believes one parent contacted the Illinois State Board of Education to ask how to refuse the test and spread that information to other parents.
A photo taken by a student at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights and shared on Twitter shows what appears to be a big crowd of students in the Hersey testing room lined up to leave, and only a scant few students still sitting in their chairs.
The student further tweeted that only 111 Hersey students took the test being administered this week.
— Emmett (@Emmett_Kelly2) March 16, 2015
Other mass boycotts have broken out around the country, but at suburban schools queried Thursday, there were only isolated examples.
The PARCC tests are intended to measure how well students are learning what's required by the national Common Core state standards curriculum. Illinois is among the states implementing it this spring for the first time, and high schools could choose whether their freshman or junior classes would take it.
However, District 214 started testing juniors at Wheeling High School in December due to the school's block scheduling, which was before the state changed policy that allowed freshmen to be tested instead. To remain consistent, Schuler said the district is testing all juniors, which he said may be another reason for the walk outs as juniors are experiencing more testing fatigue due to ACT and AP tests.
Across the country, 11 states and the District of Columbia are giving PARCC tests.
At the state's second-largest school district, fewer than 20 students refused to take the PARCC test, said Laura Hill, Elgin Area School District U-46 director of assessment and accountability.
"We tested 21,000, so (20) is quite minimal," she said.
In St. Charles Unit District 303, three or four high schoolers opted out, said Superintendent Don Schlomann.
Erica Loiacono, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's director of public relations, said 17 students at Wheaton Warrenville South and Wheaton North high schools refused to take the test.
Among 16,000 students of all grade levels that could be tested in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Naperville and Aurora, 20 to 25 have refused to take PARCC, said Patrick Nolten, executive director of research and assessment.
"We're fortunate that, for the most part, kids are willing to actively participate in this," he said.
At Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, one student opted out at the request of his or her parents, out of about 1,000 students scheduled to take PARCC, said spokesman Jim Conrey. Another 15 or so students completed one portion of the test but not the other, but he didn't know why and those kids have until April 10 to finish it.
Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said officials will not know how many students refused the test statewide until after the April/May testing period is completed.
"In Illinois alone, more than 798,000 tests have been completed, and across the (PARCC) consortium it's 4.4 million tests completed in either English or math to date," she said.
District 214 spokeswoman Jen Delgado said the boycotting students checked in for the test but when handed their booklets told the proctor they were refusing it. The students also turned in signatures on paper declaring they would not be testing, Delgado said.
They were allowed to go back to their regular classes and will not face any consequences for refusing to take the test, she said.
In U-46, Hill said building principals were asked to have a deeper conversation with the parents of those children who refused the test, which in some cases involved special needs students.
"Testing in general for special education students can be frustrating," Hill said. "Testing, for many of those students, becomes a high-anxiety situation. They may not have the same coping mechanism."
Those students' individualized education programs could require extended time on tests or to have their tests read to them, which would have been accommodated with PARCC as with its predecessor, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, Hill said.
Per state guidelines, 95 percent participation in PARCC is required from individual school districts or they risk losing funding.
"I don't think when all is said and done that we will hit that 95 percent for this round of testing," Schuler said of District 214, but added that he didn't know exactly what that would mean for the district yet.
"We want the kids to take the test and do their best," he sad.
• Daily Herald staff writers Jessica Cilella, Jim Fuller and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.