RI not tracking student opt-outs for PARCC testing

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) is not asking local school districts to report the number of students who opted out of the state’s new standardized test, which began Monday.

Roughly 19,000 public school students across the state started taking the computerized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam, but some concerned parents said they planned to encourage their children to skip the test.

“We have not asked for any reports on the number of parental refusals,” Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for RIDE, told WPRI.com. “Obviously, at the end of the testing period we will know the number of nonparticipants, though that number will not consist exclusively of refusals.”

Rhode Island has no formal policy for opting out of the exam, but some school districts asked parents to inform them if their children would not be participating. In South Kingstown, for example, parents had until last week to tell the district they didn’t want their kids taking the test.

No student’s grade point average or high school diploma status will be affected by results on the PARCC, which is currently used by 11 other states and Washington, D.C. Supporters of the exam say it is more aligned with the Common Core State Standards than previous standardized tests – and therefore functions as a better indicator of whether students have met certain expectations for their grade level.

The test focuses on mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) and will require students to use critical thinking skills and explain their answers. There is a much larger emphasis on writing skills with the PARCC. In Rhode Island, students in grades 3 through 8 as well as most high school freshmen and sophomores are expected to participate in the test. At least some high school juniors will also take the exam.

“It really asks students to analyze information, to think, to write, so it is an assessment that includes a lot more critical thinking that assessments have in the past,” Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said.

The reasons for opposing the exam vary. In other states, parents rallied against the PARCC because they believed standardized tests take away from classroom learning time or because they don’t support the Common Core.

Sheila Resseger, an outspoken local critic of the PARCC, called the exam “convoluted, confusing and ambiguous.”

“The standards are fatally flawed, the curricula that are aligned to them are fatally flawed and the testing is multiple levels of fatally flawed,” she said.

Overall, RIDE reported that the first day of testing went relatively smooth.

Krieger said four students at one elementary school appeared “to get logged out automatically and, when logging back in, some of their answers were not saved.” Other issues included not having the correct coding to provide certain accommodations to students, but Krieger said all “were rectified quickly or will be resolved before testing resumes.”

RIDE also informed school districts that failure to achieve 95% participation rates will not result in a loss in federal funding, a matter some superintendents were concerned about because federal law does require those rates. In future years, the participation rate may be tied to school classifications, according to Krieger.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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