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Chicago Reverses Course, Will Give PARCC Test Districtwide

The Chicago school district, which had been fighting to give the PARCC exams in only 10 percent of its schools, announced Monday that it would instead give the test districtwide because it could not withstand the loss of funding that state officials have threatened if it resists full-scale testing.

The decision means that Chicago students in grades 3 to 8 and in high school will began taking PARCC tests as early as next week. The four-week testing window in Chicago begins on March 9.

In a call with reporters Monday morning, Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that the state rejected the 10-percent plan and other compromise offers that CPS has made, and has threatened to withhold more than $1 billion in state and federal funding if the district doesn't administer PARCC in all of its schools. State officials outlined their final position in a letter to district leaders last Friday.

"There are huge, huge financial sanctions that have been delineated to us," she said. "It would be irresponsible for me to put us in that position of danger, given our financial condition now."

The announcement caps months of discussions between Chicago district leaders and the Illinois State Board of Education. The district's pushback against full-scale PARCC testing began last October, when Byrd-Bennett announced that she would ask the state board to allow the district to delay PARCC testing for a year, chiefly because of her concern that the district lacked the technological readiness for the computer-based test. 

In January, after the state refused a request for that delay, Byrd-Bennett announced that the district would give PARCC in only 10 percent of its schools. State Superintendent Christopher Koch and state board chair James Meeks issued a letter to school districts on Jan. 30, saying that they risked losing a portion of their Title I aid if they didn't administer the same statewide standardized test—PARCC, in Illinois' case—to all students as required by federal law.

Byrd-Bennett said that while she opposes giving PARCC districtwide now, she has no other choice but to encourage all students to participate and do their best. She said that Illinois has no provision allowing parents to opt their children out of the test, but children whose parents insist on that option will be provided an activity to do while their peers are taking the PARCC test.

The CEO said that she and her fellow leaders at CPS support the common core and believe the PARCC assessment reflects the expectations of those standards. Her desire had been to wait a year for a full-scale rollout to ensure that all schools have the technological capacity to administer it successfully. Instead, CPS board president David J. Vitale said during the media call, students in grades 3 to 5 will take a paper-and-pencil version of PARCC, and students in middle and high school will take the computer-based version.

The district had been working on "a thoughtful rollout strategy" to deal with the technological challenges that it foresaw with the computer-based PARCC test, Vitale said. Receiving a final letter from the state on Friday detailing the financial consequences that would accompany a refusal to do districtwide testing was a "devastating" blow, he said, and district leaders "have no choice" but to comply.

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