Teachers to testers: “Let us teach; let our students learn”

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, parents, and community supporters rallied on March 10 to support teachers at two Chicago schools who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test (ISAT).

The union organized the demonstration after the Chicago Public Schools’ top administrator said that the teachers could be disciplined if they did not administer the test.

“Administration of this meaningless test means students will lose hours of valuable classroom instruction time, disrupting as many as ten school days,”  reads a petition supporting the boycotting teachers.

So far more than 2,500 parents at 69 schools have signed opt out letters telling school administrators that their children will not be taking the ISAT.

Karen Lewis, president of CTU, said that the union is supporting the parents’ opt out movement and will defend teachers who refuse to administer the test.

According to Lewis, the ISAT isn’t being used to evaluate student achievement, isn’t being used to determine school funding levels, and serves no useful purpose.

“You should not feel like you need to subject (your students) to unnecessary testing and anxiety,” said Lewis. “Life is hard enough for our children. Let’s make it better. Let’s take (the time scheduled for testing) to teach and to bring some joy back to education.”

In addition to the ISAT, Chicago students in a school year will take the NWEA MAP, Interim Benchmark Tests, REACH Performance Tasks, ACCESS, NAEP, pilot Common Core, and other standardized tests.

The proliferation and questionable value of standardized testing has created a backlash among parents and educators.

“Standardized tests are used to rank children as first and second class citizens,” said Anne Carlson, a teacher at Drummond Montessori where teachers are refusing to administer the ISAT. “We need to rise up and take back our schools.”

Carlson was speaking at the March 10 rally held at Saucedo Scholastic Academy, the other school where teachers are refusing to administer the ISAT.

Also speaking at the rally was Sherise McDaniel, a parent who signed an opt out letter excusing her child from the ISAT.

McDaniel urged Chicago Public School administrators to take a pledge to support students, parents, and teachers. That pledge includes the promise “to treat all students equally and not to tolerate any punishment against children who did not take the ISAT” and “to respect teachers’ right to free speech and to speak against the misuse of standardized tests.”

“No teacher should be disciplined for teaching,” said McDaniel.

Since the Saucedo and Drummond teachers announced that they would not be administering the ISAT, support for them has been growing.

They recently received a letter of support from London teachers who belong to the National Union of Teachers.

“The world over, corporations and corporate politicians want to turn our kids into ranked numbers to help them privatize education and narrow the curriculum,” reads the short letter of support. “Stand up to the corporate bullies, stand firm against the ISAT.”

Chicago labor has also taken a stand to support the Saucedo and Drummond teachers.

The Chicago Federation of Labor, whose 320 plus affiliates represent more than 500,000 union workers, unanimously passed a resolution supporting the right of teachers to exercise their first amendment rights to boycott the standardized tests.

According to John Kugler, CTU’s representatives to the CFL, one reason that CFL delegates supported the resolution is that the irrelevant ISAT takes up to two weeks away from student instructional time.

Much of the Chicago school year is now consumed by preparing for and taking standardized tests including NWEA MAP, new Interim Benchmark Tests, REACH Performance Tasks, ACCESS, NAEP, pilot Common Core, and more.

Eleanor Griffin, an 8th grader, recently told the Chicago Board of Education how its emphasis on standardized testing has affected her education.

Three times a year we prepare for the NWEA; three times a year we take the test, she said. It’s very stressful.

“NWEA is changing the idea of school for the worse,” said Griffin. “Instead of being a place of meaningful learning, schools have become places of stressful testing.”

Devoting so much time to standardized test may not help students, but it has helped the bottom line of the corporations who design standardized tests.

Back in 1955, standardized test sales were slightly more than $10 million in 2014 dollars.

After the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law that mandated the use of more standardized tests, “the value of the testing market (was) anywhere from $400 million to $700 million,” reports PBS’ Frontline.

That was early in the new millennium.

In 2013, Pearson, one of the leading standardized test designers and the designer of the ISAT, reported sales of $4 billion for its North American division.

At the time, John Fallon, Pearson’s new CEO, complained that North American sales were flat, which would mean that the company would have to lay off workers.

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Chicago parents, teachers boycott standarized test; union supports them

The Chicago Teachers Union said that it is standing with parents and teachers boycotting a standardized test that they describe as a low-stakes test that interferes with learning. The union said that it is prepared to “mount a strong defense of (the parents’ and teachers’) collective action.”

More than 500 parents at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, a pre-K through 8th grade public school, have signed opt-out letters saying that their children will not take the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), which Chicago public school students are scheduled to begin taking on March 3.

On Tuesday, February 25, Saucedo teachers announced that they had voted unanimously not to administer the test.

“We are taking this step of civil disobedience because we love our children and students,” said Sarah Chambers, a Saucedo teacher at a media conference announcing the unanimous vote. “The unjust regime of over-testing and over-testing is inhumane. (The boycott) is one step towards reclaiming humanity, and the joy of learning and education.”

On February 27, Chicago Public School boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that teachers who refuse to administer the ISAT could have their teaching certificates revoked.

The ISAT, which takes eight days to administer, is being phased out of use. This year will be the last year that it will be given.

ISAT is being replaced by the Northwest Education Association Measure of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP), which Chicago students will take later this year.

According to CTU, “The ISAT . . . is not aligned to any (Chicago Public School) curriculum, and in Chicago, it is no longer used to measure student progress, school performance, promotion, or for any other purpose.”

“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 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.”

Sharkey also said that parents at other schools have signed opt out letters excusing their children from taking the test.

More Than a Score, a coalition of parents and teachers, has been urging Chicago parents to sign opt out letters, which, so far, more than 1,000 parents have signed.

At the February 25 media conference, Derlina Smith, a Saucedo parent, explained why she joined the opt out movement.

“Our kids need to be learning while they’re at school. They do not need to be over-tested and stressed about a test that does not matter,” said Smith. “It will be discontinued next year, so why does CPS feel as though it’s necessary?”

According to school administrators, schools are required by the state to administer the ISAT.

The state this year paid Pearson, a company that develops and markets standardized tests including the ISAT, $18 million for the test. Chicago Public Schools’ share of this payment is $3 million.

CPS administrators are saying that the ISAT won’t disrupt learning during the two weeks it is administered, but a post on the More Than a Score Facebook page suggests otherwise:

Disruption caused by the ISAT is far more than the 6-8 hours of testing. Even students not in 3-8th grade have disrupted schedules during the testing window; with specials cancelled so that teachers may proctor exams, etc.  We know of at least one school that will be dismissed early (before noon) for the three days of testing.

Special ed students who need testing accommodations can take many more than 6-8 hours to test, and their teachers are lost to administering the test for weeks.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the hours and dollars devoted to ISAT prep time over the months preceding the tests.