Friday, October 17, 2014

So what exactly is going on with PARCC, MCAS, and opting out?

I've gotten several messages from those confused about a) what happened at Worcester School Committee last night, partly due to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette article, and b) what the memo from the Commissioner does and does not say. Let me give you my best spelling out on all of that. Please note as always that unless I'm citing or quoting from someone, this is just me giving you my best explanation.

As I posted last night, Commissioner Chester sent out a memo this week to superintendents regarding--let's use the term--"non-participation" in state standardized testing. This was copied for the Worcester School Committee in response to an item filed by Mr. O'Connell regarding communicating with parents about opting their children out of the PARCC exam this spring. The School Committee saw the memo for the first time when we got to our desks last night (and I'm told that Superintendent Boone only got this yesterday); we were skimming it as the meeting started.
Thus, when we got to the item on PARCC (and I'll post video of this as soon as it's up), Mr. O'Connell spoke of the dual nature of the memo, which attempts to do two things at once:
  • it continues to cite the state's authority to require that all children be tested*, and thus that no child in a public school may opt out.
  • it deals with the reality that we are going to have children showing up with notes from home, saying that those children are not to be tested.
I venture to say that Mr. O'Connell is not confused (and nor, for that matter, is the Commissioner). There just is an inherent contradiction in the memo. Thus Superintendent Boone, referencing the memo, said the same thing: there's no opt out, both tests count this year, but if students refuse, they are to be given alternative work.
The state is partly asserting that there is no opt out in order to push people to take the test, certainly. Both tests yield student results this year, and the state is depending on this data to make a call next fall on what we're doing going forward.
There also are states where it is codified in the laws around assessment that parents may opt their children out. There is not any mention of that in Massachusetts General Law; thus there is no legal recognition of "opting out."
However, superintendents and school committees last year pointed out to the state that, be that as it may, we were still going to have kids showing up who themselves or whose parents didn't want them to take the test. Given that we cannot physical force a child to take a test, what are we to do with them? 
That's what the second page of the memo answers. The state is calling this "refusal"(shades of "Bartelby"?). That's why I asked last night in the meeting for affirmation, which I received from Superintendent Boone, that students would not face disciplinary consequences for refusing to take the state assessment; generally, disciplinary codes codify discipline for students who refuse direct staff commands. I urge those in other districts to do likewise. 
I'd really suggest not getting too caught up in the language here: if the state wants to call this refusal, well, it makes it that much more like civil disobedience for those who choose not to participate in the state assessment.
So, what is this going to look like for a parent? If a parent sends in a letter, refusing the testing on behalf of their child, they should expect that the principal is going to lay out all the reasons not to refuse. Please note that in Massachusetts that this does NOT include loss of funding, so you won't hear that; if you do, they're making it up. However, if a parent persists in refusing, and--and this is key, and I think we need to flush this out some more--the student, when presented with the test, refuses, the student is to be presented with alternative work, possibly in another location in the school. 
There is no process, no legal groundwork; there is, I would suggest, a sort of realpolitik attempt to deal with facts on the ground, while continuing to assert state authority over assessment.

*as an aside, did you notice that they did it again? They cited, but didn't quote, MGL ch.69, sec.1I? Because it doesn't say that. Longer post to come at some point on what it DOES say in MGL ch. 69 that we've never done.


Unknown said...

Here is a link to a learning style assessment:

Unknown said...

Here is a link to a website that may have more detailed information on learning styles.