Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday February 28th, 2014, 11:54pm

Chicago's Drummond Elementary School Teachers Announce Plans To Boycott ISAT

A group of teachers at Thomas Drummond Elementary School in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood have decided to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), which is scheduled to be administered next week.

Drummond, a magnet montessori school, is now the second public school in the city where teachers have decided to boycott the two-week test, to be administered Monday through March 14. Earlier this week, teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy announced they would not be administering the ISAT, which is taken by third through eighth graders.

A majority of the 15 teachers at Drummond who are tasked with administering the ISAT next week have said they will not give the exam, said Drummond teacher Juan Gonzalez, who teaches math and science to seventh and eighth graders. At Drummond, about 100 parents or guardians have already opted their students out of the ISAT, said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who stood in solidarity with Drummond teachers at a press conference late Friday afternoon.

Gonzalez and other teachers said the decision to refuse to administer the ISAT was not an easy one.

"We had to consider how it would affect our personal lives, our livelihood," he said. "At the end of the day, after everything was thought about and considered, we decided that we have to stand on the side of right and boycott the ISAT test."

Anne Carlson, who teaches fourth through fifth grade montessori classes at Drummond, added that there is a "culture of fear and intimidation" in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system.

"We feel that every day, and it's hard to explain that to the general public sometimes, but we fear retaliation," she said. "We fear our funding sources will be cut. This was not an easy decision ... I feel like we're standing up, but at the same time we're extremely fearful for our jobs, and that's the reality for all of us."

The ISAT is being phased out after this year and replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test. The scores from the ISAT will not impact things like school ratings or whether students have to attend summer school. The  NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test will be used to aid in selective school enrollment.

Sharkey, who called the ISAT "pointless" and a "waste of educational resources," said district officials have threatened educators who want to "tell the truth about the ISAT" with loss of their state education certification and other "ridiculous threats."

In a letter sent to principals earlier this week, district officials reportedly warned teachers about the possibilty of having their teaching certificates revoked if they fail to administer the test. The letter also reportedly stated that teachers should be forced to leave the school building if they refuse to give the test.
 
"The way it was written was that we would be escorted out," Gonzalez explained. When asked whether he will leave the school if he is told to, Gonzalez said, "I don't think I want to get into a fight with somebody. So I will be escorted out."

On Friday, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett reportedly sent school principals another letter detailing what to do with "insubordinate" teachers who refuse to administer the test. 

"If the teacher regularly assigned to the classroom has refused that assignment, another teacher or an administrator should be assigned to administer the test," the letter states. "The teacher who has refused the assignment should be given the option of going home without pay on all testing days or supervising the students who are not taking the test in silent reading activities. If there are special concerns about a teacher’s conduct, principals should immediately consult with their Talent Generalist at 773-535-2800."

Sharkey said there are a number of schools across the district where a "very significant" proportion of kids are not going to take the ISAT and whose parents have signed an opt-out form and met with their principals, as required by CPS.

Therefore, the "idea that there's going to be kids coming to school on Tuesday saying we want to be taught in class, and there's going to be teachers at the same time opting out and saying we want to teach kids in class, seems to me like a perfect fit," Sharkey said.

"I don't see why the district should be punishing people in that situation," he continued. "If they insist on going ahead and punishing people in that situation, they haven't been clear on what's going to happen, there's been a bunch of vague threats, which we think are far fetched, but I just want to be clear that the union will defend people to its last ounce of ability in that situation." 

Sharkey added that the district needs to "get real" and listen to parents "who say this testing has gotten out of control."

"We urge everyone in this district to adopt a saner attitude towards testing and to get to the business of learning in our schools."

On Thursday, principals reportedly received a webinar from district officials stating that educators must put the ISAT test in front of all students, and read the exam instructions to all of them, even if parents have opted their children out of the ISAT, said Cassie Creswell with the parent and community group More than a Score.

"Pressuring children, some as young as eight years-old, to participate in activities against their parent or guardian's wishes is unethical and immoral," said Creswell, a Goethe Elementary School parent. "During the ISAT testing window, we fully expect principals and teachers ... to treat our children with kindness to allow them to engage in alternative, quite activities like reading during the test and to respect our wishes as parents and guardians to direct our children's education."

According to the district letter sent to principals Friday, students who have opted out of the ISAT will be sent to other classrooms, the library or another appropriate space where students are not taking the test. Then, students will have a test placed in front of them and the instructions read aloud, as required by the Illinois State Board of Education guidelines, the letter states.

"When students decline to take the test, they should be assigned silent reading using their independent reading level materials," the letter adds. "Testing materials should be collected from students who indicate they are done."

When Gonzalez was asked why he does not want to administer the ISAT to students, he said the exam eats up time that could instead be focused on preparing students for another standardized test, the NWEA MAP, a high-stakes test that follows the ISAT.

Creswell pointed out that third through eighth graders at every CPS school already have to take anywhere from 12 to 24 standardized tests. 

"It is just crazy to think that they need one extra test this year, especially when that test is not being used for any real purpose," she stressed.

Parent Mary Zerkel, who has a sixth-grader at Drummond, said she supports the teachers.

“Frankly, as a parent in this system, I feel like CPS has opted out their accountability to us as students and parents," she said. "Their insistence on administering this test at all costs when it doesn’t count for anything, I think, is really disappointing and our teachers here at Drummond today have really stood up and showed us that they really care about our students in this system.”

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