By TACHIEKA M. WILLIAMS
and CHRISTINA YOUNG
Ohio was one of the first states to take the assessment tests, and Andrea Boyle was one of the first parents in Girard to opt her child out of that testing. Her sixth-grade son has an Individual Education Plan.
“He took the practice test and he came home and cried because he couldn’t get past Question 19,” said Boyle. “That was my determination to not have him take the actual testing. He has a hard time taking regular testing.”
Nancy Mulligan, an intervention specialist in Garrettsville, said the test is particularly troublesome for IEP students.
“You can’t give any assistance as far as clarifying directions or if a kid doesn’t understand where they are at or what they’re doing. You’re not allowed to say anything,” said Mulligan.
Other parents have criticized the PARCC tests as being too stressful and too hard.
The News Outlet asked 28 adults – all had at least a high school diploma – to take the end-of-year PARCC practice tests in English and math. These were for the fourth-grade level. In all, 23 passed the English and 22, the math.
Mulligan and a colleague participated.
“When we took the practice test together, we were arguing over what was the right answer,” said Mulligan. “She is working on her second master’s and I have a masters in special ed.”
Testing is just one issue. Preparation is another.
The Rev. Brandon Berg of Boardman is an associate pastor at Grace Family Church in Canfield and a member of the Badass Teachers Association in Ohio, which opposes standardized testing. He spoke at a recent meeting of the group.
“I started seeing ridiculous homework come home with my kids that took two hours to get done for a third grader, and that really started to alarm me,” said Berg. “I explained to the teacher and principal that they were not going to be taking these exams. They’ll want to make it sound like they need to give you permission to opt out. You don’t need permission because it’s already your parental right.”
Berg said he faced consequences as a result.
“There are always consequences to civil acts of disobedience. I was asked to step off of the PTA because I was intentionally doing damage to the school and the district by not allowing my son to participate in these exams. So, there was this punishment system.”
Getting specific numbers on opt-outs is difficult. Local school district officials said they either don’t have the numbers or deferred questions to the state.
In February, the Ohio Department of Education website acknowledged the issue, with this posting: “Many districts are receiving communication from families refusing their children’s participation in state tests.”
In response, the ODE offered school officials an information sheet to use when talking with families.
“The information describes how there is no law that allows a parent or student to opt out of state testing and there is no state test opt-out procedure or form,” the memo states. “It also details the consequences … when students do not participate.”
These consequences range from not being promoted to the next grade level, not being allowed to graduate and not receiving federal funds. Federal law requires students be tested in English/language arts and math in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school.
Then there is the issue of about $750 million in federal education funding, which is linked to testing. Critics say schools try to retain this funding by getting as many students as possible to take the test.
Boyle faced this pressure when she opted her son out of testing.
“At first I did because I was the first one to do it,” she said. “I just got a note from the superintendent stating what would be my consequences if he didn’t take the test.”
Allison M. Shipe of East Palestine had a harder time opting out her two children, ages 8 and 6, in late 2014. While PARCC testing doesn’t start until third grade, other assessment tests are given as early as kindergarten.
At first, she tried to opt out her children in the Columbiana School District. Shipe said a teacher told her, “They had never heard of a parent in her district opting out or test refusing.”
She eventually transferred her children to her home district in East Palestine, where Shipe was told by the superintendent, “We don’t have any opt out in this town or district.”
“He also asked me to home school,” she said. “He asked me that three different times.”
The superintendent sent waiver forms for her to sign.
“It was a big packet. It came with several pages of home school forms (and) a memo from him, ‘You have to sign it by this date or we’re going to test your child.’”
Shipe didn’t sign the waivers, and her children were tested.
“I never signed them because I didn’t understand them. They said things like there’s going to be potentially detrimental affects to your children. They’re going to receive zeros. The classroom teachers are going to receive a zero. The school district is going to get a negative affect to them,” said Shipe.
Shipe contacted the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“They said, ‘We would love to represent you in a federal case against your school district because you do have parental rights and they do mean something,’ ” said Shipe
Instead, she chose to work within her school district to fight the test participation.
Meanwhile, Ohio DOE officials are looking into a different way to handle federal requirements. They’ve asked for five-year “alternative testing” waivers from the federal government on behalf of seven school districts, which are part of the Innovation Lab Network, and seven STEM schools. Four of the school districts and one of the STEM schools is located in the Cleveland area. There are none in the Mahoning Valley.
Katherine Montgomery contributed to this report.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron and The University of Cincinnati, and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).