District 214 being investigated over PARCC test walkouts
The state board of education is investigating Northwest Suburban High School District 214 because of the large number of students at three high schools who refused to take the PARCC standardized tests in 2015.
District 214 Superintendent David Schuler said he isn't worried about the inquiry and that under a new federal education law, the district may not even give that test a few years from now.
A letter sent from State Superintendent Tony Smith last month informs the district that the Illinois State Board of Education is "legally required to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the participation rate" for all school districts that did not have at least 95 percent of students tested on the first year of PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
District 214 had some of the highest not-tested rates in the suburbs due to an organized effort from parents and students to refuse the test.
At Rolling Meadows High School, more than 90 percent of students did not take the math or reading test. At Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, 81.3 percent were not tested in reading and 57.1 percent were not tested in math.
More than 60 percent of students at Prospect High School did not test in either subject.
The letter said ISBE will operate through the regional office of education to "gather evidence and testimony from all members of the school community including administrators, teachers, support staff, union representatives, parents, community group leaders and even students if appropriate."
Superintendent David Schuler said District 214 has not heard from the state board since the letter was sent Feb. 18 but pledges to comply with the inquiry when he receives further guidance.
"I'm not concerned at all," Schuler said. "We'll jump through the hoops we're required to jump through, but our focus is on moving forward and providing opportunities for students."
Schuler said the district has taken several steps to change its processes before another year of PARCC testing begins in April.
This year, freshmen -- rather than juniors who may be experiencing test fatigue -- will be tested, he said. The district will also test students in small groups of 30 or 40 rather than hundreds together in a gymnasium or field house.
"That provides less opportunity for bystander behavior," Schuler said. Last year, when students saw others refusing to take the test they were emboldened to do the same, he said.
Because of those changes and less chatter from parents, Schuler said he doesn't expect a repeat of the large-scale walkouts.
"By this time last year we had heard from a lot of parents who were communicating with each other regarding the refusal procedures," Schuler said.
"We haven't heard any of that this year so we're hopeful that students will do what they're asked by the state."
The discussion could soon be unnecessary under the new federal education law -- Every Student Succeeds Act -- that was passed at the end of 2015. Under it, high schools are allowed to give any state-approved college admissions test, such as the ACT or SAT, in lieu of state tests like PARCC. Still, it may take a few years for the new law to be implemented.
"If that's the case we will engage in conversations about if PARCC is still valuable," he said. "I would think at the high school level there would be considerable conversations about it."