State Roundup: Parents’ group calls for standardized test opt-out bill

From Illinois News Network

A group of parents are urging passage of a bill that would allow parents the option of keeping their kids from taking standardized tests. Jenny Biggs with Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education says standardized tests are overused and misused. Biggs says that the State Board of Education and federal Department of Education are supposed to protect public education, not enforce standardized tests.

Illinois_News_Network_logo“Instead they’re acting like a military arm of a private testing corporation. Today we are here because we want our legislators to do what the State Board of Education and Department of Education are not doing: defend the interest of citizens by passing this opt out legislation.”

Biggs urges lawmakers to move on House Bill 306 which would give parents the right to opt their children from taking state mandated tests. The measure passed out of committee earlier this month. Nearly eight-hundred witness slips were filed in support of the opt-out measure. Only a couple of dozen opposition slips were filed, including the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois State Board of Education. A statement from ISBE says standardized tests are vital to quality instruction and the PARCC exam is directly aligned to their learning standards. PARCC is based on the national Common Core curriculum and is currently being rolled out to various age groups in Illinois.

Karen Yarbrough, a parent of three children in the Oak Park school district, says the PARCC standardized test is not ready and implementing it in the state’s schools is a waste of limited resources.

“We need for the children who need extra help to be getting extra instruction time from their teachers, not more testing. We need for the children who need extra challenges to be interacting with their teachers in new and challenging ways.”

ISBE says there have been issues with the more than one-million tests conducted so far this year, but those issues have been resolved. However Cedra Crenshaw, the mother of three school age children in Chicago’s western suburbs, says the test-driven culture in public schools is the wrong way to go. Crenshaw already had one of her children refuse the test and is preparing her autistic son, who has verbal skills, to also refuse the test.

“But many special education students are not verbal. Many have challenges which make the seemingly simple act of saying ‘no’ a serious problem. How is their right to refuse being protected? How many of them will be denied the instruction and the special education services they desperately need because of this testing obsession?”

Several other parents also criticized what they say is a threat to withhold money from states and school districts that don’t comply with testing standards. ISBE says opting out could result in disproportionate corrective action for a number of subgroups of students like minorities and those in poverty.

Group calls for closure of state’s developmental centers

The call is out to close all state-run developmental centers and transition patients to community based care. A group says developmentally disabled people get better care and the state can save substantially. During a press conference in Springfield Wednesday Cheryl Jansen, Legislative Director of Equip for Equality–an advocacy group supporting transitioning from state developmental centers to community based settings–says it’s an issue about saving the state money.

“Illinois is facing a major budget crisis. This is a unique opportunity to save the state significant money.”

But it’s not just about savings, Jansen says community based care provides a better quality of life. Bob Peterson has a developmental disability and experienced a state institution first hand. After transitioning to community based care, Peterson has a message for people opposing closure of state institutions.

“Living in the community gives you more independence and allows you to have a full life which I definitely have.”

Peterson says community based living has provided him with lots of friends, the ability to join groups and even a chance to go to the movies.

Meanwhile Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois, says the state is still warehousing the developmentally disabled and they’re looking for a transition to community based care over the next five years, something he says can be done and done well in Illinois.

“The transition from Jacksonville I think is one of the best closures in the nation.”

A study from the University of Illinois Chicago found more than eighty percent satisfaction from families impacted by the 2012 closure of Jacksonville Developmental Center. Regardless Paulauski says there will always be naysayers, especially in Illinois.

“We’re a state that has a pretty strong union in that regard as well so that presents it’s own problem. People are not going to be magically cure by moving into the community. We’re still gonna need employees to work with people, to support people.”

Hundreds of supporters for community based care lobbied lawmakers Wednesday. Transition supporters say the move could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Bill restricting license plate readers passes committee

A State Representative says government should be limited in how they use license plate reading technology to track citizens. Representative Peter Breen’s Freedom from Automatic License Plate Reader Surveillance Act passed out of the House Judiciary-Civil Committee unanimously Wednesday.

Breen says the Act would limit government use of the technology that can scan every license plate in view of sophisticated cameras and store the location and other information in a centralized database. Breen’s measure would require information to be retained no longer than thirty days, unless it’s part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Breen’s bill also prohibits government agencies from selling license plate data to private companies and puts limitations on how the cameras could be used to including toll collection, traffic enforcement, and criminal investigations, among others. The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois State Police filed witness slips in opposition to the measure.

$10 million grant returned with interest

A Chicago film studio has returned a $10 million grant to the state of Illinois, plus interest, after the Governor demanded repayment of the grant the former governor handed out. The Chicago Sun Times, which initially reported the grant, says Cinespace returned the money Tuesday.

Former Governor Pat Quinn gave the film studio the $10 million grant so they could buy property but the properties were not for sale. Besides the $10 million Cinespace got from Quinn’s administration they also received several other grants totalling over $17 million according to the Sun Times.

Governor Bruce Rauner demanded repayment of the money earlier this week. State Representative David McSweeney asked the Auditor General to audit the transaction. The Auditor’s office indicates they have received the request but says they don’t comment on ongoing audits.

Jesse Jackson Jr. heading to halfway house

The Associated Press reports former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. could be out of prison Thursday. The Chicago Tribune says Jackson could eventually end up with home confinement.

Jackson began his sentence in October 2013 after he was found guilty of misusing $750,000 in campaign funds. Sandi Jackson, wife of the former congressman who was also convicted in the wrongdoing, will begin her year-long prison term a month after her husband’s official sentence is over in September.

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