Families & the Community Opinion

Chicago Test Boycott - Second School Joins In

By Anthony Cody — February 28, 2014 3 min read
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Guest post by Michelle Gunderson.

An 8 year old child sits at a desk separated and isolated from peers. There is a paper and pencil test placed in front with a bubble-in answer sheet. The teacher reads the scripted instructions in a robotic voice, writes the time and the board and says, “Begin.”

Only this isn’t the end of it. This child will experience this same scenario over the next 8 days while taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

As a parent, would you sign your child up for this?

Educators and parents in Chicago joined forces this week to boycott the ISAT at two schools, Maria Saucedo Elementary School and Drummond Montessori. There are also over 1,000 parents at 37 other Chicago schools who requested to opt their child out of ISAT. They are supported in their decision by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE).

The photo above shows a teacher Sarah Chambers addressing a press conference held on the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Saucedo Elementary. Chambers is Saucedo’s union delegate, and a co-chair of CORE. This afternoon, roughly 200 people rallied in the street in front of Saucedo, expressing support for the test boycott.

The Illinois test contains sections in Math and Reading for grades third through eighth with additional tests in Science for the fourth and seventh grade. ISAT can be extended over a period of 8 days - wreaking havoc with school schedules, teaching and learning, and the consistency of children’s lives.

Parents in Chicago have become astutely aware of the inordinate amount of time their children are spending in testing environments, either taking assessments or preparing for tests. They asked why and for what purpose - and were dissatisfied with the answers. This test does not produce usable data on a timely basis that can help guide school programming or instruction. It does not help children or teachers in any way. In fact, it would be hard to invent a worse test.

Teachers who administer this battery of tests see firsthand the time and energy detracted from real teaching and learning. They sit and watch their students work for hours on problems and questions that many times have no context to their classroom learning. For some of our special needs students, the testing environment can last for days in order to accommodate the tests to their needs.

You would be hard pressed to find Illinois educators who proclaim the ISAT as a valid measure of student learning and a worthwhile use of student time.

Boycotting and opting out of the test are actions that no one has taken lightly. The district has threatened to discipline and even revoke the licenses of teachers who participate in this action. The boycott comes after months of information forums, study groups, and organizing. The parents, teachers, and organizations involved have a deep political analysis of how tests in general have been used to sort, divide, and punish our children and their schools. These tests carry high stakes. School closings, student placement, and now teacher evaluations are based on the scores.

The boycott is not an action of a rogue, brash contingency. These are thoughtful, caring people who want to reclaim public education with a new vision. And it’s a vision that does not include excessive and needless tests.

A petition has been posted stating the following:

We support the teachers who refuse to administer and the parents who opt their students out from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). We call on Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education not to give the ISAT test this year. There should be no retaliation by the Chicago Board of Education against the parents, students and teachers who have taken action to improve students' education.

What do you think of the decision by these teachers to boycott this test?

Michelle Gunderson is a 27 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction

Image credit: Greg Goodman, used by permission.

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.