Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chicago Teachers, Parents, Students Opt Out Of Standardized Test

In a principled move early last year, and with widespread support from parents and students, the teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School unanimously refused to administer a state mandated standardized test, saying the test wastes time, money, and school resources. 

In encouraging news this week, the teachers at Chicago's Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy, inspired by the 320 families who have already opted their children out of the state-mandated Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT), voted unanimously to refuse to administer the tests. Families at 38 other Chicago schools have also opted out of the tests, leading to hopes that the bold move will spread to other schools.

This is how it is going to happen, one school at a time, one school district at a time, one state at a time: a revolution of teachers taking a stand on behalf of education, supported by students and parents fed up with the insanity of the testing regimen that is increasingly coming to dominate our schools, a trend that is only going to ramp up in coming years as the US Department of Education strong-arms Common Core State Standard implementation, complete with a number of high stakes tests.

In this case, as in the case of Garfield High School, a low-stakes standardized test has been targeted, rendered so by the district's decision to drop the ISAT after this year, which is not aligned to any Chicago school curriculum and will not be used to measure student progress, school performance, promotion, or for any other purpose. Essentially, this is a test that steals eight classroom days from students and teachers, not to mention prep time. And while the test serves no purpose, educational or otherwise, the school district is threatening disciplinary action against the teachers. 

This is the level of insanity to which the standardized test crowd has sunk. Despite any data or research or field testing to support their theories about drill-and-kill education, and plenty of evidence that shows their approach is narrowing and weakening our schools, they persist in demanding obedience even when they admit their tests have no value. When you have to resort to bribes (which is essentially how Common Core is being implemented through the Obama administration's Race To The Top), threats, and punishment to get your way, if that's all you've got, then it's highly likely that your way sucks.

It should be interesting to see what happens should the district follow up on its threats, given that the teachers seem to have significant support from the rest of the high school's community as well as the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU). It could shape up as a classic confrontation between those who believe in local control of schools and those pushing to impose standards from on high. It's an American fight, one I hope to see spread through Chicago, Seattle, and right across the nation.

Here is the text of the press release from the CTU:

CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) supports teachers and parents at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy who announced today their intent to boycott the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT). Teachers have collected more than 300 opt-out letters and the student council voted to encourage all students to opt out of the exam. Should these courageous educators face disciplinary charges by the district, CTU vowed to mount a strong defense of this collective action.
Saucedo’s action stance against the ISAT could spark a teacher and parent-led movement to “opt-out” throughout the Chicago Public Schools system.
“The Saucedo educators have taken a bold step in refusing to administer a test that is of no use to students and will be junked by the district next year,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has already said the ISAT will not be used for selective enrollment, and therefore this serves no purpose other than to give students another standardized test. We know that parents all over the city are opting their children out of this unnecessary test, and we commend them for doing what is in the best interests of their children.”
The ‘low stakes’ test is expected to be administered over the course of eight days in all elementary schools starting March 3rd. Formerly used to help qualify 7th grade students for selective enrollment high schools. The district recently issued a memorandum to teachers stressing the value of “rigorous, high-quality assessments,” in measuring student progress. The ISAT, however, is not aligned to any CPS curriculum, and in Chicago, it is no longer used to measure student progress, school performance, promotion, or for any other purpose.
For the last decade, since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ISAT test has been the primary lever used by CPS for its destructive, destabilizing policies of closures and turnarounds. System-wide, the ISAT has infected the vigor and breadth of curriculum as teachers and students became stymied by the requirements of a narrow test-based approach to learning. NCLB has now been panned as a broad failure, but with the transition into more new tests, CPS threatens to double-down on the failed policy of standardized-test based accountability.

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