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Chicago testing snub could cost state as much as $1.17 billion

Thursday, Jan 29, 2015 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From January 16th..

Chicago Public Schools are set to defy a mandate to launch a standardized exam districtwide this spring, despite the potential for sanctions that could include some loss of federal funding.

The district said it will administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC, to just 66 of its more than 600 schools as an extension of a pilot program that began last year. The rest of the schools will continue to administer NWEA-MAP and EPAS exams.

School district chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s decision to snub PARCC, which she said was made in conjunction with the school board, could have national implications and play a role in a congressional debate over laws that created rigorous Common Core standards and a divisive system of high-stakes testing.

* Greg Hinz reports the cost to the state might be as high as $1.17 billion

The threat came in a previously unpublicized letter to Illinois Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch from Deborah Delisle, the assistant U.S. education secretary, but also has been privately communicated in conversations that state officials are taking very seriously.

“We are greatly concerned about it,” the Rev. James Meeks, the new chairman of the state school board, told me.

“We are working through the process,” Meeks continued, with a “hope” that the matter can be resolved without financial loss to CPS or the state, which receives most federal school funds and distributes them to local districts.[…]

The letter mentioned several categories of assistance that, collectively, amount to $1.17 billion to Illinois in fiscal 2015, according to the state board.

The $1.17 billion represents about 84 percent of federal education aid to Illinois, excluding school lunch and breakfast programs. Of all dollars spent in the state on grade and high schools, about one in 10 comes from the feds—so losing all of the $1.17 billion really would bite

The letter is here.

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  1. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:21 am:

    I highly doubt that our president is going to let his home town schools lose a billion dollars while there is ample evidence that it is trying to comply. Not with his friend running for reelection.

  2. - Huh? - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:26 am:

    Trying to comply? They’re pretty much refusing to take an exam that the state pays for in favor of an exam they pay for out of their own pocket….how exactly are they trying to comply. Every other district in the state was able to get it’s act together and administer the exam this year.

  3. - Carhart Representative - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:30 am:

    This test has never been administered before. It has zero stakes to it and is basically reducing the children of the states administering it to unpaid guinea pigs as Pearson uses them to calibrate their test. I don’t expect the Common Core to last more than another year or two. It’s hemorrhaging states.

  4. - East Central Illinois - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:32 am:

    Other school districts are working to comply with the PARCC assessment. If somehow, CPS gets by without doing the PARCC and also gets the federal money just because they chose some other assessment then something is terribly wrong with the system.
    Regardless of how a district feels about PARCC is not the issue of receiving the federal funds. The issue is if the federal strings are tied to doing PARCC, then school district A should have to do PARCC, otherwise forego receiving the federal funds.

  5. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:32 am:

    Perhaps they objected to the answer to one problem: 14 divided by 12 doesn’t equal 1.00.

    At the risk of doing more math, giving up 84% of the federal revenue stream, which represents 10% of revenue, they just gave up 8% of their revenue when their books already don’t balance!

  6. - East Central Illinois - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:34 am:

    I should also add to my previous comment that if CPS gets the federal funds and does not have to follow the PARCC assessment, then other school districts throughout the state should also get the same opportunity . . . do their own assessment and receive the federal dollars just like CPS is trying to do.

  7. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:34 am:

    The whole testing regimen is a joke this year. The “base-line” exam is being administered in March and the “final” assessment is being administered in April. Seriously. The base-line was to have been administered last Fall, but it wasn’t ready, so the bumped it to March.

    Frankly, the idea that these exams are worth the money and effort being pour into them is a joke. There are better ways to assess student progress. That said, Chicago needs to explain why their alternative is as good or better.

  8. - Buster Brown - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:35 am:

    Finally. Maybe now people will listen that PARCC is going to be an academic and financial nightmare.

  9. - ANON. - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:35 am:

    Just reduce the state funding to CPS by the amount of the penalties, if any.

  10. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:43 am:

    Perhaps the CPS are not technologically capable of rolling this test out on such a large scale. This is an online test that requires connected computers. In my SPS, we will be having the children take it by class over a 2 week period because we do not have enough computers to allow everyone to participate at once.

  11. - Huh? - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 10:48 am:


    The Parcc test has a paper & pencil version available also. It costs more money (still paid by the state) but the technology issue is a farse.

  12. - Retired - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:01 am:

    Whatever happened to local control?

  13. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:05 am:

    The only students who are allowed to take the paper and pencil tests are students who have an IEP demonstrating a need for it. (I asked this question and this is what I was told, but I cannot guarantee that it is 100% accurate.)
    I know the teachers in my school are worried that there is an entire essay section which must be typed; our students have not been offered keyboarding classes so any keyboard skills they have will have had to come from elsewhere.)

  14. - Jimbo2 - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:08 am:

    Interesting Comments:
    1) Other districts around the state have been requesting another year before implementing PARCC. To the extent that some have started a petition to that effect
    2) While a pencil/paper option is mentioned, schools have been pushed toward the on-line version. As long as the state data indicates they have appropriate technology they must request p/p testing. That request had to be made months ago, before current problems with the test became evident.
    3) The test of the system last year worked fairly well but the tests over the last 2 months have had a lot more problems. And, PARCC seems to be ignoring real technical issues

    All this based on one columnists suppositions from a unpublished letter that listed POSSIBLE p0enalties for non-compliance.

    Finally, I support this type of testing in general, This will be the future of educational testing and we all have to prepare for it. But, the burden placed on Illinois schools by Pearson for PARCC testing has been huge. Both in hardware, connectivity costs and personnel. I can understand CPS wanting to use MAP testing, they have been using it for a while and have all the bugs worked out and they actually use it to make educational decisions.

  15. - Wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:09 am:

    Does Rauner still have Arne Duncan’s number?

    Duncan’s probably shining up the old resume these days.

  16. - Person 8 - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:12 am:

    @anon 11:05

    Wrong, a district can choose it as a whole.

  17. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:23 am:

    It sounds like the city needs an impetus to help their motivation in meeting federal standards.

    Threatening to take that $1.7B out of state funds to the city or CPS over a number of years, rather than forcing the state to swallow the consequences of their decision, might help CPS take this as seriously as the feds appear to.

  18. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:23 am:


    Where did you find that information?

  19. - Huh? - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:24 am:

    Person8 is correct, I beleive. If a district elects to take the exam on the computer all students take it on a computer unless they have accommodations in their IEP.

  20. - General Aubrey - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:33 am:

    The school district I work for is taking the entire test via paper. Basically, we don’t have enough computers and our wiring isn’t up to date. It would cost the district around $200,000 to do all the necessary upgrades for us to administer this test. Meanwhile, our superintendent is working on the RIF list and trying to decide if the state will skip 1 or 2 of the 4 payments we get every year.

  21. - Carhart Representative - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:40 am:

    =Whatever happened to local control?=

    No Child Left Behind eroded it and Common Core hastened its death. There is way too much money to be made to leave this up to local control.

  22. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:44 am:

    Chicago Public Schools aren’t accountable to the state. The money they get from the state is on autopilot and they don’t have to justify costs for big chunks of money they receive. Why should they do anything they don’t want to do when they know they are going to get money regardless?

  23. - T.C. - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:45 am:

    It seems to me that the federal requirements mandate a district to take a test to measure academic progress every year, or risk losing their federal funding. Again, “a test,” not necessarily the PARCC. So wouldn’t Chicago still be in complaince with the MAP and or NWEA?

  24. - Teacher Here - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:47 am:

    Pencil/paper version (more expensive) can be requested by any district, especially if the technology is not in place to test, oh say, 600 students at one time. the test has not been normed, and it will cost IL $57M to do so by giving it to students. The erosion to instructional time is huge, there is no stake in it by the students, and it is coming at the worst time in the school year (In May it is during AP testing, which students DO have a much larger stake in). It is a mess, plain and simple. I, for one, am holding my breath that it collapses before our March testing date. Perhaps the threat of a huge price tag is what it will take to make people come up with some real solutions.

  25. - Gooner - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 11:54 am:

    The fact that Barbara Byrd-Bennett still has a job is a fact I find boggling.

  26. - Wumpus - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 12:05 pm:

    Wordslinger, Duncan is probably working on his jump shop.

    District 54 is doing the paper version.

  27. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 12:25 pm:

    Chicago Public Schools may not be strictly accountable to the state, but they are very accountable to the city of Chicago. And Chicago gets significant funding from the state in various forms.

    In terms of carrots and sticks, there is always leverage to be found if necessary.

    Of course, the state could just sit silently and let everyone else possibly pay the fine for a local decision they had no control over. Maybe next year CPS can find a way to double the amount of that fine the state winds up paying, just for kicks.

  28. - Huh? - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 12:33 pm:


    I beleive regulations say that the state is required to test almost 100% of students with their designate statewide accountability exam. When CPS (who makes up like20% of the students) walks away the state cannot possibly meet this.

  29. - Carhart Representative - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 12:38 pm:

    NCLB is about to be struck down, that’s where the 100% requirement comes from. Also, Chicago still gives the NWEA test, which is given three times a year

  30. - T.C. - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 12:39 pm:

    - Huh? -

    Thanks. That makes sense.

  31. - Huh? - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 12:47 pm:

    Carhart, perhaps that’s what Bennett is gambling on…..seems foolish to me, but I’m not in her pay grade so what do I know.

  32. - JS Mill - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 1:11 pm:

    Jimbo2 has it correctly. A district can REQUEST paper and pencil version but the ISBE makes the determination based on a previous assessment of tech capabilities. If you have the are taking the computer based assessment.

    Much of the concern is not even based on on the PARCC test itself. THe role out and prep for the full test has been a disaster. The ISBE and Pearson have continued to change the process and instructions, as well as student protocol up to last week. An someone said it earlier, this is a baseline/guinea pig year for PEARSON who should really be paying the state and schools for all of the work being done to implement this.

    Frankly, the implementation process and timeline has been the biggest issue for many of the ISBE initiatives in the last three years. The either do not posses the know how or personnel to properly prepare for the roll outs. As a result, districts are forced to feel their way through these tings with little guidance from the state and then told they are doing it wrong after the fact.

    =I don’t expect the Common Core to last more than another year or two. It’s hemorrhaging states. = It is here to stay. Districts have invested massive amounts of time and money to align to the new standards, which are generally an improvement over the ISLS from 1997. Those states that are “leaving” are adopting nearly identical standards. Just chicken bleep Governors running for political cover.

  33. - JS Mill - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 1:14 pm:

    For many district Federal dollars account for less than 5% of total funding. That said, no one wants to lose a nickel these days.

    I am told that the ISBE is actively working to change the CPS decision or isolate the them and prevent it from impacting the rest of the state. If it does go down, and Illinois losses Federal funding, look for an everyone versus CPS showdown that the ILGA will not be able to protect CPS from. It will be incredibly divisive and ugly.

  34. - Phenomynous - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 1:53 pm:

    CPS is the largest recipient of these grants. Bennett must have clearance from Rahm, his Board, Duncan, or the President to feel safe gambling on this move because CPS stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding if the Feds withhold funds.

    In reality, it is a shortsighted, petty, and selfish move by CPS. Frankly, I’m not surprised.

  35. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 2:15 pm:

    ==an everyone versus CPS showdown that the ILGA will not be able to protect CPS from==

    ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime’

    If CPS does not care about the consequences of their actions, then they can face those consequences. On their own.

  36. - JS Mill - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 2:28 pm:

    @Tc & Huh?- The federal mandate is for 95% of students to be tested.

  37. - zatoichi - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 2:50 pm:

    So the state has a $9B budget hole going. Add another $1.17B so CPS can use a different testing process. Of course CPS will never come to the state and ‘ask’ for financial help later. Excellent timing and thinking.

  38. - Huh? - Thursday, Jan 29, 15 @ 5:25 pm:

    JS thanks for the exact number I knew it was less than100% but wasn’t sure if it was 90, 95 or 98.

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