Stop Bullying Kids Over Testing Issues

The first round of the controversial Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing is almost over in Illinois. Hopefully, by the time round two takes place in May, all of the grown-ups in the room will figure out how to be less cruel to children who opt out/refuse to take the test.

Regardless of how folks feel about opting out of PARCC, I think we can all agree that making a child with academic challenges "sit and stare" for the duration of the testing sessions, plus extra time because his IEP requires it, is abusive and a form of bullying. Because the Libertyville Highland Middle School principal, Jon Hallmark, had not received a directive from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) about what to do, and because there is an opt out bill currently languishing in the state legislature, principals and superintendents are free to implement their own solutions. And Hallmark's solution was to force a child with special needs to sit in a room doing nothing.

It gets even crazier. Some administrators have decided that "sit and stare" is the only solution because allowing children to read, draw, or even learn something in another room is disruptive to the testing process. This strikes me as even sillier than forcing teachers to take down their bulletin boards lest they distract kids or give them the answers.

In Algonquin District 300, Superintendent Fred Heid nixed drawing because a student who is opting out might copy down test questions and pass them on to other students. Or the student could use a cell phone (even though they are forbidden in school) to photograph test questions. I'm not sure why reading a book is not acceptable. Perhaps because the child might learn something? More likely, other kids taking PARCC might be envious and also decide to opt out.

A logical person might wonder why all of these children who are refusing PARCC can't go to the school library to read or draw or do a project. We are told no staff members are available to supervise these children, let alone teach them. All staff members are being used to administer PARCC. Did it ever occur to anyone to ask for parent or community volunteers? I for one would have been happy to do it. Gottcha.

I am thankful that in Evanston where my grandkids go to school, Paul Goren, Superintendent of Schools, intervened to allow my grandchild with special needs to opt out based on her parents' letter. Other administrators had interpreted that the PARCC rules demanded the child refuse each time a section of the test was presented. So it took a lot of work to opt out the child with special needs, but her younger sister was permitted to refuse to sit for the test on her own. At least she was allowed to read and draw in the school office with other refuseniks.

As readers of my blog posts know, I think our kids are tested to death with no benefit to them. I begged Evanston, Just Say No to PARCC. I likened opting out to an act of civil disobedience. I made the case for how high stakes standardized testing was the brainchild of politicians and businessmen rather than educators, and how no one wanted to back down from the commitment to this approach to educating our children. I begged community members to take a look at the test for themselves and unite to oppose it.

Raise Your Hand Illinois has been advocating for the passage of an opt-out bill. HB306 would allow parents in Illinois to opt their children out of state mandated standardized tests, including the new PARCC test, and would ensure there are no repercussions against the parents or child from the school or district. I assume "sit and stare" would be considered a repercussion. It is certainly a draconian punishment for a child, even if some folks think he should take this test.

So in lieu of passing a law, which seems to be as hard to do in Illinois as it is in Washington, can I make a simple request of the grown-ups in charge of administering PARCC. Just use common sense to find a place for the handful of kids in your schools who are opting out, even if you disagree with their parents' choice. And please treat these children with the kindness and respect that all kids deserve.