Public school parents on Chicago's South Side are speaking out against the controversial PARCC standardized test as well as overcrowding and other conditions in their children's school, Irvin C. Mollison Elementary.
Gathering Thursday morning outside Mollison, located at 4415 S. King Dr., community members and parents whose children have opted out of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test said they want Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials "to answer to the disinvestment" at the school.
As part of the record number of school closings in 2013, CPS designated Mollison as the receiving school for the now-shuttered Anthony Overton Elementary School. According to parents, Mollision took in about 200 students from Overton.
"Closing and merging our schools has had a severe negative impact on our children," said Anna Jones, one of eight parents at the news conference.
The parents said they are fed up with the over-testing of their children and are demanding that improvements be made at Mollison, which they say is overcrowded, lacks adequate space for special needs students and has no librarian, computer instructor or a permanent eighth-grade teacher, among other concerns.
"While you're pushing our children to be test factories, you have yet to right the wrongs of the [in]equality for African-American and Latino students," said Jeanette Taylor, a Mollison parent and the school's Local School Council (LSC) president.
Mollison parents want "a real education plan for students, not a bunch of business plans," Taylor added. "We want CPS to support this school. We want sustainable community schools."
PARCC, an exam aligned with the Common Core State Standards, was administered for the first time across Illinois starting Monday. The new standardized test, which can be administered online as a computer-based assessment, replaces the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam. PARCC is given to third- through eighth-grade students and some high schoolers.
As of Monday, at least 125 Mollison students had opted out of the PARCC test, parents said. School officials, Taylor said, have allegedly "intimidated" and "forced" some Mollison students into taking the PARCC exam, despite their parents' objections.
The opt-out policy set by the state for standardized tests has been a source of frustration during PARCC's rollout for many parents across Illinois. State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) is pushing legislation in Springfield that would clarify the rules. Under Illinois State Board of Education policy, parents cannot opt their children out of the PARCC test. Instead, students have to refuse to take the test themselves. Guzzardi's bill, HB 306, would allow parents to make the decision on their child's behalf.
The PARCC assessment is being used to "produce more timely and meaningful data on whether students are on track for college and careers" and to "help educators and parents monitor student progress and target instruction and appropriate interventions as needed," according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
But the parent group Raise Your Hand argues that PARCC "has not been proven to help student or teacher evaluations" and "will take away weeks of valuable instruction time from our classrooms." Additionally, the education group maintains that PARCC "has not been properly field-tested, has no validity studies and contains significant technical glitches."
Asked why the Mollison parents oppose having their children take the PARCC exam, Taylor said the test has a "70 percent failure rate. The PARCC test is not tied to anything. So it's not tied to student promotion. It's just another test."
PARCC, parents said, also eats up time that could instead be focused on getting students ready for another standardized test, the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), a high-stakes exam to be administered in May.
"I have a 7th grader," Taylor said. "What she does this year will determine what high school she goes into. And you're wasting her instruction time on a test that means absolutely nothing."
Mollison LSC member and parent Angela Ross, who has opted her two children out of the PARCC test, said her sixth-grade son is struggling academically and needs more instructional time to prepare for the NWEA, which is used in part to determine whether a student gets promoted to the next grade.
Ross said her son took a practice PARCC test a few months back and found it to be too challenging.
"He came home with tears in his eyes and said, 'Mom, I couldn't even pass number one,'" Ross said, adding that, "I feel my kids are falling further behind because the district has not given adequate resources to support" the school.
Here's more from Ross and Taylor:
The PARCC test takes about 10 hours to complete, and Mollison students are working on the exam for 75 minutes a day, Taylor said.
Asked what the students who have opted out have been doing during PARCC testing, Taylor said, "Some of them are taken to the library that we don't have a librarian for, and the other kids are taken to the gym to play."
A CPS spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
While talking to reporters, some parents toted signs in support of mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who was expected to attend the press conference but had a scheduling conflict. The Garcia campaign did not return a request for comment on this story.