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Few ask about opting out of new PARCC assessment tests

Posted at 11:31 AM, Mar 23, 2015

Tracy Mathews, a parent with children at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland, feels like the only one.

So does Wendy Burtnick, who has a son at Mayo Elementary.

The parents are among the few who have inquired about opting their children out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The new tests are aligned with Maryland's College and Career-Ready Standards, based on the idea students in each state should be learning the same information, so they can be equally prepared for careers.

The law in Maryland doesn't allow for parents to opt out of testing for their children, and in a few years some high school tests will be used in graduation requirements. Students and parents in states such as New Jersey, Illinois, and Colorado have participated in movements protesting everything from a fear of over testing to the curriculum students are learning.

The movement hasn't gained traction in Maryland.

Burtnick believes the group hasn't gained traction because people keep telling her she's the only one who has a problem with the testing.

"I don't think it's an ostracism as much of a perceived ostracism," Burtnick said.

So, she joined Facebook groups — like Stop Common Core in Maryland. The group has about 1,300 members. More than 800,000 students attend public schools in the state. Parents post about their success in declining the test.

The success varies. Each school system, and each school handles how to work with parents who want to opt out their children from testing, said state representatives. From the state level, the state hasn't heard from many people. It's been a smattering of parents, said schools spokesman Bob Mosier.

Regardless, most of refusing the test happens at individual schools, not the central office, he said.

While parents can keep their children home, Mosier said students who are present in school the day of testing will be seated in the testing area. Parents who want less testing call it the "sit and stare" method -- instead of moving students back to their classes, or to another class, the students sit and wait until testing is over. A disruptive student may be moved from the testing area, Mosier said.

At the high school level, Mathews said she's worried about the amount of testing her two children are undergoing. Her ninth grade daughter, Hanna, is in four honors classes, one Advanced Placement course, and must take PARCC tests for Algebra 2, and High School Assessments for biology.

Her older daughter Taylor, who is in tenth grade, would be taking PARCC tests for Algebra 2, English 10, and High School Assessments for government.

That's on top of the typical midterms and finals.

"Please consider the over-testing of our kids," she said, reading from an email she wrote to Superintendent George Arlotto. "Both of our daughters stay up late studying for tests, and it adds a lot of stress to them."

Mathews said she likes her school, her school system, and the teachers she interacts with -- but she's her child's best advocate.

While her 15-year-old daughter Hanna, worries about testing, her older daughter, 16-year-old Taylor is a more strong-willed.

On Thursday when Taylor should have started testing, she decided not to. She made T-shirts with letters saying "Stop PARCC Testing," and Taylor prepared a letter to give to the administrators.

On the first day, she sat in the administrative office during the tests and read a book, and then left with her next bell.

Friday, she continued her typical classes.

Taylor said that she just felt it was "ridiculous" that the students are taking a test while they miss other classes.

"The kids who are serious about it are extremely stressed out, because they don't know half the stuff on the test," she said. "It's like everyone's angry, or they're just laughing about it, because it's so ridiculous."

The baseline scores on the test haven't been defined -- students need to take the test and see where they fall before creating the scores that define whether a student passes.

The school system piloted the test last year in most schools, to see how the schools could handle the computers. Other than a few minor glitches, testing has been fairly easy, Mosier said.

At this point, Mathews is trying to manage the stress her high schoolers are under.

"The only thing I could tell my girls is, 'Don't stress, do the best you can.'"
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