Massachusetts City Defies State, Lets Students Opt Out of PARCC Test

By Catherine Gewertz — March 07, 2014 2 min read
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A testing standoff has begun in Massachusetts. Last night, the Worcester school committee voted to let parents opt their children out of the PARCC field tests, despite a warning from the state education department that doing so runs afoul of the law.

According to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the panel that runs Massachusett’s second largest city decided to brave the disapproval of the state and allow students to say no to the PARCC field tests.

Some Massachusetts students, you might recall, are being excused from the regular state tests, the MCAS, this year by virtue of a federal waiver to facilitate the PARCC field testing. Only 15 percent of Massachusetts students in the tested grades of 3-11 are involved in the field test. Those are the students who could skip the MCAS (except at the 10th grade level, when the MCAS is required for graduation). The state’s waiver says that only children taking the field test have permission to skip the MCAS.

The opt-out movement appears to be picking up its pace. As we told you recently, a wave of anti-testing sentiment is causing problems for state and district tests, as well as for the field tests by PARCC and the other federally funded consortium, Smarter Balanced, in various places across the country. Worcester isn’t the first Massachusetts city to embrace an opt-out, either; the Telegram & Gazette tells us that Norfolk did so as well.

JC Considine, a spokesman for the Massachusetts department of education, said that the 1993 Education Reform Act requires districts to participate in state testing, but refusing to do so doesn’t incur financial penalties. Nonetheless, the state education department’s general counsel advised in a recent letter that since the department views the PARCC field tests as part of its assessment system, districts are required to participate.

Even though Massachusetts’ federal waiver allows districts to give only one test—the MCAS or the PARCC field test—to any student in a given subject area, it is up to districts to decide whether to give both, Considine said. The “vast majority” are still opting to give students both the MCAS and the PARCC field test, he said.

“We want these districts to participate,” he said. “We think this will be a valuable experience for every district to go through.”

Resistance bubbled up recently in another Massachusetts town, as well. The Northhampton school committee wanted to opt out of PARCC, Considine said, but the department negotiated a compromise that allowed the district to have only two schools—instead of the planned five—participate.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.