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Common Core testing trouble: Computer problems, student protests and more

Hundreds of Albuquerque High School students stage a walkout in Albuquerque, N.M. on Monday, March 2, 2015, to protest a new standardized test they say isn’t an accurate measurement of their education. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

In New Mexico, hundreds of students protested the PARCC Common Core exam by walking out of school. In New Jersey and other states, thousands of students refused to take the tests. In Chicago, schools officials who earlier said they would not give PARCC test to all students bowed to state pressure and said they would — even though the head of the school district said “that to administer PARCC this year is absolutely not in the best interests of our students.” And in Florida, computer problems in numerous school districts forced officials Monday to delay the state’s new standardized assessment tests.

The Common Core 2015 testing season got into full swing in numerous states around the country Monday, and it was anything but smooth in some places.

[Common Core opponents face hurdles in repeal efforts]

In New Jersey, Illinois, New Mexico and other states, students sat down to take the PARCC exam, one of two new Common Core tests created by two multi-state consortia, with some $360 million in federal funds. PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, had 26 states in 2010, but now fewer than a dozen states and the District of Columbia are taking the PARCC test this year. The other consortium is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and its exam window starts in mid-March; about 20 states are in SBAC.

Florida was originally in the PARCC consortium but withdrew and hired a company to create new standardized assessments exams, which hundreds of thousands of students sat down to take Monday. At least a dozen school districts had serious computer problems, ranging from an inability to log on to the testing portal to complete exams. Some managed to overcome the problems, while others were forced to reschedule. “It’s a mess,” said Steven Stark, director of assessment for Alachua County Public Schools, according to the Gainesville Sun.

The two largest districts in the state, Miami-Dade and Broward counties, had to suspend testing, the Miami Herald reported, saying:

In Miami, parents at the New World School of the Arts received a text message Monday saying the ninth-grade writing test had been postponed until March 5.
The reason: “computer technical difficulties.”

In New Mexico, hundreds of students walked out of their schools in different cities, refusing to take the PARCC exam. KRQE News in Albuquerque quoted Aspen Morgan, a sophomore at Cleveland High School, as saying:

“It feels like we’re being pressured to take a test that we feel like we’re bound to fail because of a lot of things on the PARCC test we never went over.”

Thousands of students in New Jersey, Illinois and elsewhere opted out of the tests as the “opt-out” movement continues to grow. In Ohio, where PARCC testing began last month (with some computer problems), about 365 of the Tri-Valley School District’s 3,100 students opted out, according to the Times Recorder, with the district superintendent, Mark Neal, publicly supporting parents who decided to have their children boycott the tests. Neal posted a letter on the district’s Web site saying in part:

While I am not (and never have been) an advocate of the PARCC Testing, Ohio got into this testing debacle with little to no input from local school officials. Therefore, I feel no responsibility to stick my neck out for the Department of Education by defending their decisions. What’s happening now, in my opinion, is that parents have figured out what is being forced upon their children, and the proverbial rubber … is beginning to meet the road. However, it is not our goal to discourage nor undermine the laws of our governing body.

Chicago school officials made a surprise announcement Monday, saying that they were reversing a decision not to give the PARCC test to all students in the district, under pressure from state authorities. In January, school district chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, with support from the school board, said they gave the PARCC this school year to students in just 66 of more than 600 schools in the system because of major questions about the value of the exam. With the PARCC being administered on the computer (though there are paper-pencil versions), officials also cited concerns about whether the district had the technological capability to give the exam to all students.

State officials pressed the district, though, and Byrd-Bennett said Monday that all students would take the PARCC exam, even though she didn’t like the idea. The Chicago Tribune quoted her as saying:

“There are huge, huge financial sanctions that have been very clearly delineated to us. It would be irresponsible for me to even put us in that position of danger, of losing the funds, given our financial conditions now. … I continue to personally and professionally believe that to administer PARCC this year is absolutely not in the best interests of our students. However, given the threat from [the Illinois State Board of Education], there is absolutely no choice that I can present to this board and to our community.”

Another problem for PARCC: the weather. Some schools were forced to close because of snow and ice, and they consequently had to reschedule testing.