Chicago public school educators and activists rallied Monday afternoon to support teachers who have refused to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and parents who have opted their students out of the exam.
Toting signs reading “More teaching, less testing” and “Stop bullying parents and students”, the group urged district officials to not retaliate against any parents, students or teachers who have decided to opt out of the ISAT, which began last week and runs through Friday. The protest was held outside the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Network 7 office, which is in charge of schools in Pilsen and Little Village.
Educators at two schools, Thomas Drummond Elementary School and Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, are boycotting the ISAT, despite a stern letter from CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett stating that teachers who refuse to give the test could lose their education certification.
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) organizer Noreen Gutekanst said district officials have also threatened teachers who boycott the ISAT with disciplinary actions “up to and including termination. “
“The teachers who took this position, and the parents who took this position, are doing this because they want to teach,” Gutekanst stressed. “The mayor said he wanted to have a longer instructional day, and he wanted to have more learning time, and these teachers are saying, ‘Let us teach. We don’t want testing all the time.’ So which way does he want to have it? Does he want to fire all these folks because they want to teach?”
Organizers said some 1,500 students at more than 80 schools across the city have opted out of the ISAT, which is administered to third through eighth graders.
In many schools, students who have opted out of the exam have been sent to rooms where testing is not taking place. The students are either “forced to sit and stare” or read quietly by themselves, Gutekanst said. Teachers who have boycotted the exam have not been permitted to teach lessons to students who have opted out, she said.
But even so, some teachers who have refused to give the test said they are teaching lessons to students who have been opted out of the exam.
“I can confidently say they told me that I’m only supposed to supervise silent reading, and I have been teaching,” said Anne Carlson, one of about four teachers at Drummond who are boycotting the ISAT. “And I’m going to tell you how. The students and I have to hide in the trenches in the library behind some tall bookshelves reading stories about Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks and other law-breaking heroes.”
Sandra Posadas, a third-grade bilingual teacher at Saucedo, has boycotted the exam and is also teaching students, despite district orders not to.
“The ISAT has taken time away from instruction, so I’m taking that time back,” she said. “I am teaching in the classroom ... Don’t penalize me or my co-workers for wanting to teach.”
Cassie Creswell with the parent and community group More Than a Score said some teachers who are not at the two boycotting schools are “being monitored” because they are suspected of sympathizing with those who have opted out of the test.
Organizers with More Than A Score said the group has received dozens of complaints from parents at about 20 schools about alleged “bullying, intimidation, lies and mistreatment by school and network officials who are trying to pressure students into taking the ISAT.” According to a release from the group, some of the complaints claim that students who have been opted out “were forced to take the test because an administrator said the signatures on the opt out letters were forged by the students.” There are also reports that some students were denied a bathroom break while testing was taking place and had to watch “classmates eat treats that were given to the tested children but not those opting out.”
The group has sent a letter to Byrd-Bennett, calling on her to launch an investigation into the alleged incidents.
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 ISAT is being replaced by other tests, including the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exam, which will be used to aid in selective school enrollment.
Organizers at the rally claim that parents who have opted their students out of the exam in predominantly Latino and African-American schools are being “harassed” more than parents in white communities.
“There’s been really different kinds of treatment depending on whether the child is a Latino child, a black child or a more privileged North Side child,” said Gutekanst.
“Usually, when there’s a more privileged economic background, then the parents’ wishes are being respected. In some of the schools where the majority of the kids are Latino and black, the parents are being called repeatedly.”
Amara Enyia, a community organizer and municipal consultant who plans to run against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015, attended the protest.
She said teachers, parents or students should not “be bullied or intimidate for taking this stand.”
“I think instead of doing that, the administration should actually look into how much time are we spending testing, especially in our public schools,” Enyia stressed.
She noted that there needs to be an evaluation of the number and quality of tests that are being administered to public school students in the city.
“I don’t think this is a debate that should be squelched, minimized or brushed aside,” Enyia stressed. “Regardless of whether or not students opt out this time, I think we need to evaluate this issue. I think we need to look into this so that we can make sure that we’re using best practices around testing. And this is an issue of: what are we prioritizing? Is it teaching and learning in the classroom, or is it testing?”
Creswell noted that third through eighth graders take anywhere from 12 to 24 standardized tests each year, adding that “even one more minute of testing is too much.”
“We need to draw the line somewhere, and this test is not being used for administrative purposes, it’s not being used for educational purposes, no one gets the results until summer … and it is a huge waste of time. It’s a huge waste of money,” Creswell stressed.
“And even worse when parents and children say ‘no,’ which they are legally allowed to do to this wasteful test, they are being intimidated. They are being threatened. They are being intimidated. They’re being coerced into taking it. They’re being lied to.”