Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Monday November 4th, 2013, 4:32pm

CPS Students Dress Like Zombies, Protest The 'Death Of Public Education' (VIDEO)

Excessive testing is taking the life out of education, according to a group of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who dressed like zombies and marched from the district’s headquarters in Chicago to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office at city hall Friday evening.

Calling themselves “the learning dead,” the students, organized by the Chicago Student Union (CSO), protested the “death of Chicago’s public education system.”

While proponents of standardized testing say it helps to close the achievement gap, roughly a dozen students claimed on Friday that high-stakes testing takes up valuable instruction time and negatively impacts student learning.

“I love to learn, but because education officials put so much emphasis on standardized testing — they use it to measure school success, measure teacher success, measure student success — teachers are forced to teach to the test and that really limits what we can do in the classroom,” said Charlie Murphy, 16, a junior at Lane Technical College Prep High School and member of the CSO.

This year CPS trimmed the number of standardized tests students in the district are required to take, but Murphy said there is still a strong emphasis on standardized testing in his school.

“I understand the importance of measuring academic growth, but some students just aren’t good test takers and when so much time is spent on these high-stakes tests, we really lose time for projects and critical thinking in the classroom,” he said, adding that he’s already taken two standardized tests this academic year.

For the 2013-2014 academic year, CPS stripped away the requirement for kindergarten through second graders to take the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress for Primary Grades (NWEA MPG) assessment during the spring and fall.

Second through eighth graders are also no longer required to take the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test in the fall, but they do have to take it in the spring. The EXPLORE test for ACT preparation is no longer administered to eighth graders. Also, the fall session of Explore, Plan, ACT (EPAS) was eliminated for ninth through 11th graders.

But there are still 22 standardized tests being used in the CPS system, with some being administered as early as the second month of school.

Wendy Katten, executive director of the Raise Your Hand coalition of CPS parents, who briefly joined the student protesters on Friday, said high-stakes tests are being conducted in a vacuum, and thus are not a comprehensive measure for a school’s environment or student aptitude.

“Standardized tests are being used to rate our schools, to close our schools, but there are many variables that tests don’t take into account,” Katten said. “A standardized test score doesn’t factor in poverty, mobility or any other issues that may affect students’ ability to learn.”

CPS’ assessment system contains three major types of assessments across all grades, including kindergarten through grade two. Baseline tests attempt to understand where students start the year, formative tests aim to monitor progress over the course of the year, and growth tests are meant to measure progress at the end of the year.

“Education cannot be reduced to a numerical measurement, teachers cannot be measured by numbers, schools cannot be measured with numbers and students cannot be measured with numbers,” said Cian Pallasch, 17, a senior at Lincoln Park High School and CSO member.

Here’s more from Pallasch and the CSO protest:

Once the student protesters made their way to city hall, they demanded a meeting with Emanuel to discuss the issue of further scaling down the number of CPS' required high-stakes tests.

The students also criticized district policies that, they say, are "killing" public education, including a mayoral-appointed Chicago Board of Education. When speaking with a press representative from the mayor’s office, the protesters also requested that CPS reallocate charter school funds to public schools and called for more tax increment financing (TIF) dollars be used for public education.

In May, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close a record-breaking 50 neighborhood schools. Citing a $1 billion deficit and an impending $400 million increase in pension payments, CPS officials slashed budgets and fired more than 3,000 school employees, including 1,700 teachers, as cost-cutting initiatives for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“This is our education that’s at risk, and we need to have more of a voice when they make decisions that affect our schools,” said Avelardo Rivera, 15, a sophomore at Whitney Young Magnet High School, who painted his face like a zombie for the march to city hall.

“It’s our education and we as students should have a seat at the table.”


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