Chicago Teachers, Parents Say No to Over-Testing

(Photo / Rhodes School)
(Photo / Rhodes School)

By Emily Gray Brosious
Originally published at Gapers Block
Mar. 07, 2014

Standardized achievement tests are underway in Illinois. Hundreds of thousands of students across the state began taking the exams in math and science on Tuesday. But in Chicago, some students, parents and teachers are boycotting the final year of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

At dozens of schools, they’re staging a boycott, saying the tests don’t adequately measure student performance. It’s part of a national growing debate over the validity of standardized testing.

In late February, a coalition of Chicago Public School parents announced that nearly 500 children at dozens of schools were planning to opt out of taking theISAT this year. According to the coalition, the majority of those students, around 300, were at Saucedo Academy in the Little Village neighborhood.

Teachers at Saucedo Academy were the first to announce they would boycott the test this year, saying students’ time would be better served by eight days of learning rathr than eight days of pointless testing. They said students were already forced to take too many standardized tests.

On the heels of Saucedo’s announcement, Drummond Thomas Montessori School teachers followed-suit, voting to boycott the ISAT at their school as well.

Teachers said it didn’t make sense to force their students to take this exam because the ISAT doesn’t serve any real purpose. The ISAT is no longer a factor for student promotion, graduation or selective-enrollment schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union voiced support for educators that refused to administer the test.

“This second boycott is evidence that more and more educators continue to take a principled stand against harmful tests and in support of their parents and students,” said Chicago Teachers Union Vice-President Jesse Sharkey. “The CTU supports these teachers and calls on the district to stop making threats to parents and educators who are trying to restore some sanity to the education system.”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett threatened disciplinary action including revoking state certification of teachers who refused to administer the standardized test. Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported Byrd-Bennet’s warning.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said CPS administers the ISAT in accordance with state and federal law and said the Board of Education mandates school districts distribute the test to all students in third through eighth grade.

CPS officials underscored that the ISAT is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law and that only parents, not teachers, can opt their children out of the exam.  To do so, parents were required to send written notice to the school’s principal and meet in-person with the school administrator.

For some parents protesting the test, the latter portion of the opt-out requirements came at the cost of missed work and lost pay.

Parents also complained that they received phone calls informing them the test was mandatory and that they were not informed of their right to opt out.

More Than a Score, a coalition pushing Chicago’s testing boycott, reports students who opted out of the test have been subject to punitive measures and intimidation.

According to the Chicago Teachers Union, some students who opted out of the test faced punitive measures and intimidation by school administrators. One student at a Near North Side school was misled to think he would be held back a grade if he did not take the exam, the union said in a statement.

CPS warnings dissuaded some teachers from going through with the boycott. However, The Chicago Teachers Union said most boycotters stayed the course and that the boycott had even spread to as many as 74 schools.

“I’m very, very happy to say today was a victory,” said Sarah Chambers, one of nearly 40 Saucedo teachers who voted to boycott the test, at a news conference Tuesday outside Saucedo.

Despite disciplinary threats, teachers who refused to administer the ISAT on Tuesday were allowed to remain in their respective school buildings to teach students who opted out of the test.

The ISAT is being phased out at the end of this school year. It will be replaced by not one, but two new standardized tests next year. The first will determine student promotion in grades three, six and eight. The other will determine rosters in selective-enrollment schools.

As this final year of ISAT testing winds down, many are hoping the boycott will open up a new dialogue- One that begins to honestly question the purpose and legitimacy of excessive standardized testing in public schools

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