A group of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parents delivered a formal complaint to the state board of education's Chicago office on Monday, pushing back against its requirements for students who have been opted-out of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
In a letter sent Friday to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) reportedly warned the district of possible “disciplinary action” as well as a reduction in funding if schools fail to give the exam to all students in the correct manner.
But the parent activists argue that CPS officials have previously said that parents can opt their students out of the ISAT if they so choose.
Under state law, students whose parents have opted them out of taking the exam must have a test booklet placed in front of them in order to give them an opportunity to participate. After they have received a test booklet, students are allowed to refuse to take the exam and will not be punished for doing so, a state board of education spokeswoman told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“They can then sit quietly, or if the district allows, read a book,” ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus added.
But members of the parent and community group More Than A Score and other activists said the children should not be put in a position where they are required to say in class after their parents have already opted them out.
“My 10-year-old shouldn’t have to refuse a test and be put in an awkward situation,” said Raise Your Hand coalition's Wendy Katten, a parent at Burley Elementary in Lake View.
According to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), about 74 CPS schools thus far have had parents opt their children out of the ISAT. Educators at two schools announced plans to boycott the test last week, despite a strict letter from from Byrd-Bennett stating that teachers who refuse to give the test could lose their education certification.
Meanwhile, 165 university education faculty from across the country have signed on to a statement of support for the Chicago teachers who are refusing to administer the ISAT. The faculty are from the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Education, the University of San Francisco's School of Education, Penn State University's Department of English and the University of North Dakota's Department of Social Work, to name just a few.
Their full statement of support states:
As university faculty whose responsibilities include preparing future educators, we support the action of teachers at the Saucedo and Drummond elementary schools in Chicago who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). Over a decade of research shows that an over emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests narrows curriculum, creates social and emotional stress for students and families, drives committed teachers out of the profession, and turns schools into test-prep factories with principals forced to comply as overseers—especially in low-scoring schools.
We understand assessment as the process of gathering evidence about learning, from multiple sources, so that teachers can better support student learning. The ISAT, in contrast, contributes virtually nothing. CPS no longer uses the ISAT for promotion, graduation, or eligibility for selective-enrollment schools and is phasing it out after this year. It is not aligned with Common Core State Standards—which, regardless of how one sees them, Illinois has already adopted—and does not help teachers improve student learning.
The pre-service teachers with whom we work are demoralized about a future of teaching in such a test-driven atmosphere. We teach our students—future educators—to stand up for their students, families and communities, and to take principled stands for social justice. That's what the Saucedo and Drummond teachers are doing. We applaud them and stand with them.
UPDATE 1 (4:10 p.m.): The More Than A Score coalition and other activists are set to hold a press conference this afternoon outside of Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy to draw attention to the "abuse" of students who have been opted out of the ISAT by their parents.
According to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), some students who have been opted out of the ISAT have not been removed from classrooms where testing is taking place, despite the district saying last week that these students would be sent to the library or another appropriate space where the test is not being administered. Some students who have been opted out of the exam were also given testing materials to read, the union said. One third-grade student was apparently told that opting out of the ISAT would result in being held back a grade, while another student who has opted out "was forced to sit in a classroom where the test was administered and not allowed to use the bathroom," according to a release from the union.
“Principals and network administrators have picked up on the panic of those above them and are committing all sorts of abuses against children in the name of a test,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “By threatening teachers’ licenses and jobs, and denying parents the right to direct the education of their own children, in the most over-blown and shrill terms possible, [CPS CEO] Barbara Byrd-Bennett and [Illinois State Superintendent of Education] Christopher Koch have touched off a firestorm."
UPDATE 1 (10:37 p.m.): Also, according to reports, teachers who have boycotted the test have not been removed from the classroom as previously warned by the CPS CEO. Instead, they were allowed to teach students who were opted out of the test, according to one teacher at Saucedo Academy. Nonetheless, some teachers from Saucedo pulled out of their plans to boycott the test due to the warning about certification revocation.
“Tens of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students, teachers and administrators participated in the first day of ISAT testing on Tuesday, which is mandated by federal and state law and tied to school funding," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood in a statement. "Students who chose not to participate were assigned independent reading or to other classrooms to ensure a quiet, respectful environment for students taking the state-required test.”
According to the group More Than A Score, more than 1,500 students have been opted out of the test by their parents throughout the district.