The Lafayette Parish School System has received word from one family who will not allow their children to take standardized tests this spring.
School officials are expecting a “flood” of similar refusals in the coming weeks, district accountability director Tom Spencer said at a Monday legislative breakfast.
Beginning in March, some students will take the PARCC standardized tests for the first time as the district continues its transition to the Common Core academic standards and the associated assessments. Students in some grades will take PARCC exams in English Language Arts and math.
Students still will take the state’s LEAP test for science and social studies this year. The tests will take place throughout much of March, then pick up again in late April.
Erin May, a Lafayette mother of three, said Monday that she is the parent who notified LPSS that her two youngest children will not take the PARCC exams. May has a fifth-grade student at J. Wallace James Elementary and a sixth-grade student at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy. The testing does not apply to her oldest child, a high school freshman.
“First of all, our children are over-tested, so there was going to be a time I put my foot down,” said May, who also teaches kindergarten in the Lafayette Parish School System. “When I saw the sample questions for the PARCC tests, I realized this was the time to put my foot down.
“What I saw were questions that were so complexly phrased that I am not sure that I understood what they were asking me to do,” May continued. “I’m not willing to put my children in a situation where they are going to feel like they are less than smart, or less than adequate, because they can’t understand the question, much less come to an answer.”
Another factor in May’s decision was learning that teachers and schools will not receive the PARCC test results until next school year, she said.
“Any information gleaned from this testing won’t be used to benefit my child,” May said. “It’s not going to drive instruction. It’s not like a teacher will say ‘Oh, my students didn’t get this, I have to re-teach it.’ My student won’t have that teacher anymore. This is data collection for the state. It’s the children serving the state, instead of the state serving the children.”
When a parent refuses to let a student take a standardized test, the school must record a zero for that student, Spencer said. If enough students are opted-out, those zeros can add up to lower scores for schools, the district and teachers, officials said.
“I don’t know what can be done,” admitted Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau. “It’s kind of like parents didn’t get to do away with Common Core, so they are going to protest by not taking the test … It can have a grave impact. It’s not fair to that teacher who has worked very hard, and her Compass score will be impacted by receiving a zero.”
May said she met with both of her children’s school principals last week to discuss the impact.
“I completely understand and sympathize with their situation, and the wonderful thing was that they completely understood and sympathized with mine,” May said. “I hate that (State Education Superintendent) John White has set this up such that the teacher or the school are penalized. That’s completely unfair … I understand the principals’ situation, but my children come first.”
Spencer urged legislators to push for a provision that would keep the zero from being recorded if a student opts out of testing. He also suggested putting an item on school report cards to show the testing participation rate.
“Right now, the way the report cards are done, if we have a school that gets a ‘B’ and the reason is because enough kids didn’t test and were assigned a zero, there would be no notification on that card for the public to know how that actually happened,” Spencer said.
For example, Spencer said that last year, the scores of 19 students at Northside High made the difference between the school receiving a failing grade and a higher score. Northside received an “F” in the performance scores that were released last October. Spencer said it would be unfortunate for that kind of situation to happen at a school like J.W. Faulk Elementary, which has received failing grades two years in a row.
“I would certainly hate for J.W. Faulk to make substantial improvement and get their score up, and it’s no longer failing except for the fact that five parents opted out and that would actually make a difference,” Spencer said.
Spencer added that the district’s testing refusal form will require parents to sign beneath statements that they understand the decision could have negative impacts on children, schools and the district.
“It’s a very, very important issue,” Billeaudeau said. “It’s probably the most important issue that impacts not only Lafayette Parish, but all schools throughout the state.”
May said she has heard from other parents who are interested in opting their children out of testing. Most have asked about the opt-out process and how to communicate with school officials. May said she is also urging parents who decide not to have their children tested to send a letter to White and state education officials to explain their decision.
May said she has sent a similar letter to the state education department.
“I think they are so far removed from the actuality of it, the people who are dealing with it on the ground,” she said. “They don’t know the stress that it causes.”
Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education, said a “small number” of students have not taken part in standardized testing each year since the state first began administering them in 1999.
“While the law has required for years that all students count when calculating school performance scores, even those who do not test, school systems can determine whether a student’s absence should be classified as excused or non-excused,” Pastorick said via email. “As in any year, the vast majority of students will participate in tests so that they, their parents and their teachers can assess their achievements and their future needs.”
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