PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday April 6th, 2016, 2:00pm

Parents Press Illinois Lawmakers To Pass Standardized Testing Opt-Out Bill (VIDEO)

Chicago parents are putting pressure on Illinois Senate President John Cullerton over a standardized testing opt-out bill that has been pending in the upper chamber for nearly a year. 

About 20 Chicago public school parents protested outside John Cullerton's district office Wednesday morning, calling on the Illinois Senate President to assign a state testing opt-out bill to committee. 

At issue is HB 306, approved in the Illinois House last May and awaiting action in the Senate. The bill, which has five Senate supporters, including chief sponsor state Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), would allow Illinois students to opt out of state assessment tests with written permission from a parent or guardian.

Parents at the protest, organized by the group More Than A Score, want HB 306 assigned to the Illinois Senate Education Committee and called for a vote. The bill has been pending in the Senate Assignments Committee since May.

"I'm here to ask Senator Cullerton to please assign House Bill 306 to committee," said CPS parent Vanessa Caleb Herman. "This is a bill that allows parents to have a voice in whether or not their kids take the standardized tests ... Against the odds, [the bill] passed the House last year and now it is ready to shrivel and die on the desk of the Senate president, which is ridiculous. Just put it in committee and put it out there for discussion and see what the people want."

CPS parent Jeff Jenkins said it is "unacceptable" that the legislation has yet to be considered in the Senate. 

"As a democratically elected public official, it is undemocratic ... to sit on this bill," Jenkins said.

Here's more from Jenkins and the protest:

The Illinois House and Senate are up against an April 8 deadline to pass bills originating in their respective chambers out of committee.

"We currently face a deadline this week for Senate bills to get out of committee. The procedural deadlines then shift toward assigning House bills," Cullerton spokesman John Patterson told Progress Illinois via email, when asked if and when the Senate president intends to have HB 306 assigned to committee.

Patterson said HB 306 is currently under review by the Senate president. 

The state's opt-out policy for standardized tests has been a source of frustration for many parents across Illinois since last year's rollout of the new state-mandated PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test. PARCC replaced the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

Under current Illinois State Board of Education policy, parents cannot formally opt their children out of the PARCC test. Instead, students have to refuse to take the test themselves.

More Than A Score organizer Cassie Creswell said some students who opted out of state-mandated exams have allegedly been mistreated, having had recess or snacks withheld on testing days. 

Jenkins said HB 306 would ensure that children who opt out of state assessments are "treated fairly, with dignity, with kindness" and are "not placed in an awkward and stressful position."

"That is simply what the bill is advocating," he added.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has previously threatened to veto HB 306, with his administration saying the state could lose over $1 billion in federal funding if less than 95 percent of students take the PARCC test. 

But parents pushed back on that claim.

"I've looked at the fiscal note. There's no cost whatsoever to the state of Illinois for this bill," Herman said. "And while there (are) rumors out there that there would be federal funding cut, never has the federal government ... cut the funding of any entity for parents choosing to opt their children out of these standardized tests. So that is an empty threat."

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