Parents livid over CPS investigators questioning kids over ISAT boycott

Written By BY JON SEIDEL AND MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporters Posted: 04/22/2014, 06:25am
Array Students were pulled out of Tricia Black's class and questioned about the recent ISAT tests at Drummond Montessori School in Chicago Thursday afternoon 3-20-14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media

Furious Bucktown elementary school parents said CPS investigators yanked their children out of classrooms Thursday for individual interviews about this month’s ISAT boycott — without parental permission.

“I was absolutely furious and I really still am,” said a parent who asked not to be named whose daughter was interrogated. “It’s really scary now that I know the power they have. . . . It’s like Russia, there’s no accountabilty for the powers that be.” The parent said the investigator asked her daughter if her teacher, one of four at Drummond who CPS might punish for refusing to administer the state-mandated exams, tried to influence her not to take the test.

“Apparently they did ask her if she wanted to be interviewed, but she’s a people pleaser and wants to do what she’s supposed to,” said the parent, who was alerted to the interview by a fellow parent. “I called the school to make sure my daughter wouldn’t be interrogated, but it was too late, it already happened,” she said.

Her daughter is now suffering anxiety she may have mistakenly said something that could get her teacher fired. “I am so sad because I think I’m going to get him fired,” she told her mother.

“The truth is, her teacher did not opt my daughter out of the exam. I opted her out. If they wanted to question someone, they should talk to me.”

Other parents shared the sentiment and the outrage.

“It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t sound fair. It sounds intimidating and scary for our kids,” said Sabrina Craig, the parent of a Drummond sixth-grader.

Several of the children told teachers after the interrogations that several questions were followed up by: “Are you sure? Are you lying?” according to Tricia Black, a teacher at Drummond who took part in the boycott of the test, which is being phased out next year and which many parents and teachers see as gratuitous.

Asked if she feared punitive measures threatened by CPS against boycotting teachers, including decertification, Black said: “When children are being manipulated, fear goes out the window. I mean, my God, really? You can’t pull kids and put them in a classroom by themselves and interrogate them — If I lose my job, so the f— what? I don’t want to even work here if that’s going to go on. It was a witch hunt today, a witch hunt.”

Several parents and teachers suspected the questioning was done to create a climate of intimidation.

Craig and other parents wondered if the interviews were even legal.

“I’m not sure what would make it illegal,” said CPS spokesman Joel Hood.

Hood said in a statement: “Chicago Public Schools is meeting and talking with students, teachers and staff at Drummond Elementary School about ISAT testing to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered.

“CPS officials only spoke with students who opted to talk with them, and the investigation does not pertain to any student disciplinary issue. Students who chose not to take the state-required ISAT test last week do not face discipline from the District.

“CPS has decreased the number of standardized tests issued each year, but the District is required by Illinois law to administer the ISAT, and the test is tied to federal and state funding for schools.”

Parents said they had no warning and only learned of the interviews when word spread Thursday on Facebook. CPS declined to say why notice wasn’t given.

It wasn’t until parents picked their children up from school, though, that they knew for sure the kids were being questioned about the ISAT, or Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

Several parents said they called to add their children’s names to a list of students not to be interviewed. Jonathan Goldman, the parent of two Drummond students and chairman of the Local School Council, said CPS was honoring the list “as far as I know.”

CPS threatened to kick teachers who boycotted the state-mandated test out of school buildings as the anti-ISAT movement ramped up in recent weeks. They even warned of teacher decertifications.

When testing finally got underway, though, teachers were allowed to instruct students who opted out of the test.

Norine Gutekanst, representing the Chicago Teachers Union, said the decision to opt students out of the test belonged to the parents and that “putting the child in the middle of it is really, really inappropriate and borders on harassment.”

Black, who says she never talked to parents or students about her views on the ISAT, was told by another staff member Thursday morning that the CPS law department was in the building to pull individual students out of class and question them about the ISAT.

“My third-grade student was interrogated by herself in the principal’s office with the door closed. Which surprised me that you would take a child of that age and close the door to the office with someone that you don’t know . . . I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but it’s certainly unethical.”

Black said her student told her she was asked: Did your mom ever see a form to opt out of the test?

The girl was not one of the students who opted out.

She was also asked if she knew any other students who opted out.

The ISAT is required by federal law under No Child Left Behind, and it is used to measure, among other things, adequate yearly progress. CPS has not met that benchmark in recent years.

The ISAT will be replaced next year by another set of new tests.

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