The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

CPS Playing High Stakes Poker With Standardized Testing

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 30, 2015 5:05PM

The debate over Common Core is the latest front in the ongoing battle over standardized testing in public education. The Department of Education’s attempts to establish a national standard for testing have been met with sharp opposition on both sides of the political spectrum. Recent polls show 60 percent of Americans oppose standardized testing.

We know the far right and the tea party oppose Common Core because it’s Big Government. But in blue states such as New York, California and here in Illinois the issues involve taking valuable learning time away from students in order to prepare them for the test—aka “teaching to the test”—and that the test involves school districts spending money they don’t have buying proprietary software for the tests, which will enrich the venture capitalists investing in the companies making the software.

(Chicago School Board member Deborah Quazzo is one such businesswoman; she and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have resisted growing calls for her to resign after it was revealed companies in which she holds financial stages have received $2.9 million in contracts from Chicago Public Schools after Emanuel appointed her to the board.)

Not everyone opposes a national testing standard, only how it’s being implemented. Private and charter schools are exempt from Common Core testing, so students in those schools get to read To Kill a Mockingbird while public school students have multiple days taken from them filling out a testing form. But CPS is risking losing federal funding because of how they want to implement Illinois’ Common Core-based exam, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a 10-hour online test.

Unlike previous standardized tests, PARCC requires students to show their work. Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick answered a challenge from Illinois Schools Superintendent Dr. Christopher Koch to take the exam (she took the third grade exam) and found several problems with ambiguous, confusing questions and the response of the software.

CPS only plans to administer the test to 10 percent of its students this year. The Education Department wants PARCC administered to all students and, in a memo from assistant U.S. education secretary Deborah Delisle to Koch, has threatened to withhold $1.17 billion in state aid unless CPS complies and administers the exam to all students. Koch previously reached out to Education Secretary Arne Duncan asking if it was okay for a school district to delay implementing PARCC for a year.

USDOE Response Letter by Zoe Galland

While there are waiver options for school districts to delay launching PARCC, allowing CPS to delay it for a year would be seen by critics as special dispensation by the Obama administration, according to a source close to negotiations between the Education Department and the state Board of Ed.

It’s the first major headache for new state Board of Education chairman Rev. James Meeks, who said “we are working through the process” in the hope the two sides can reach some middle ground.