Holding Firm in Test Standoff

By Catherine Gewertz — April 11, 2006 1 min read

Jim Gill is opposed to standardized tests, so he always keeps his two daughters home when they are given. But this year, that choice came with a heftier price tag.

Leaders of Oak Park Elementary School District 97, just west of Chicago, told the Gills last month that if their daughters, who are in 4th and 7th grades, were going to skip the tests, they must miss the entire two-week “testing window,” March 13-24. The first week is for tests, the second for makeups.

That was a switch from the policy in the previous four years, when Mr. Gill and his wife, Sue, had kept the girls home with a good book, or took them to a museum, during testing hours and then returned them to school.

Mr. Gill, an early-childhood consultant, argues that the district used “coercive tactics” to ensure it met the high rates of test participation required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“We didn’t choose to keep our children home for two weeks,” he said. “The district forced us to keep our children home by not honoring our wish to not participate in the testing.”

Mr. Gill wrote to the Illinois state board of education to ask whether state law made the two-week window an all-or-nothing proposition, as the district contended.

A legal adviser for the board wrote back that “there is no intention on the part of the ISBE to have students miss school unless absolutely necessary,” and encouraged Mr. Gill to reconsider his plan.

Mr. Gill contends that the response shows that there is no state-mandated reason to have forced his children to miss two weeks of school.

But the 5,000-student Oak Park district disagrees. Kevin Anderson, its assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said he and Superintendent Connie Collins went out of their way to clarify the issue. State law requires all students to take the tests unless they have legal exemptions, he said. What’s more, he said, state officials advised him that any student in attendance during the two-week testing period must take the tests.

“If you don’t want to be tested, you can’t be there,” said Mr. Anderson.

On the brighter side for the Gill girls, Mr. Anderson said their absences are considered excused.

A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2006 edition of Education Week