Teachers who boycotted ISAT allowed to remain in classrooms

Written By BY MITCH DUDEK, BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporters Posted: 04/06/2014, 06:26am
Array Today was the first day of the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). There was a mass opt-out throughout the city today, where hundreds of students decided not to take the test. | Michael R. Schmidt-For Sun-Times Media

Chicago Public Schools officials were the first to blink Tuesday in a showdown that pitted teachers who refused to administer a state-mandated test against school officials who threatened to kick them out of the building, or worse, if they didn’t.

More than 20 teachers at Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy in the Little Village neighborhood who refused to give the test were allowed to teach students who opted not to take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

“I’m very, very happy to say today was a victory,” said Sarah Chambers, one of about 40 Saucedo teachers who voted unanimously last week to boycott the test because they thought it was gratuitous.

Although the boycotters’ ranks eroded a bit Monday because of a warning from CPS that participating teachers could jeopardize their state certification, the majority stayed the course, Chambers said at a news conference Tuesday outside Saucedo.

“There were teachers who felt really intimidated,” said Ferris Akrabawi, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Saucedo. “Who wouldn’t? I understand that.”

Cassie Creswell, an organizer with the anti-testing group More Than a Score, said at least 1,500 students from 80 schools opted to not take the test, a multiday exam required of all students in grades three through eight. Several parents noted that the tests are unnecessary sources of stress and that they are being discontinued next year anyway, when a new standardized achievement test will be adopted across Illinois.

“This ISAT test is absurd,” Chambers said last week. “It is not tied to anything — it’s not used in promotion, it’s not used in graduation, it’s not used for leveling of the school.”

State-mandated tests have proved unpopular with some parents, who think too much emphasis is placed on test preparation to the detriment of well-rounded classroom instruction.

But some parents and students said Tuesday they think the test will be good practice test for more important exams.

“Life is a test,” said one parent who asked not to be named.

Among other things, the ISAT is used to measure adequate yearly progress. CPS has not met that benchmark in recent years.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood issued this statement Tuesday: “Tens of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students, teachers and administrators participated in the first day of ISAT testing on Tuesday, which is mandated by federal and state law and tied to school funding. Students who chose not to participate were assigned independent reading or to other classrooms to ensure a quiet, respectful environment for students taking the state-required test.”

Creswell said that confusion has reigned in the past several days as CPS has told parents it is their right to opt their children out of the test, while the Illinois State Board of Education has said the opposite. “It’s been total chaos,” Creswell said.

In the midst of the turmoil, reports of punitive measures and intimidation against students who opted to not take the test surfaced Tuesday.

A father of a student at Addams Elementary said his daughter was denied “treats” that were given to every student who took the test.

“Principals and network administrators have picked up on the panic of those above them and are committing all sorts of abuses against children in the name of a test,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement.

The Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement that a third-grader at a Near North Side school was misled into thinking that he would be held back a grade for opting out of the ISAT.

Michael Flynn, a teacher at Otis Elementary near Grand and Ashland, said dozens of parents who opted their children out of the tests in a written letter received telephone calls telling them the test is mandated by the state. While this is true, Flynn said, the parents were not informed it was their right to opt out.

“I’m not against standardized testing,” Flynn said Tuesday. “I’m against 20 different assessments a year, because we’re going to spend two weeks on a meaningless test.”

Flynn said he’d rather use the time to prepare students for the a meaningful exam, such as the one used to determine which high schools students are eligible to attend.

CPS has said it does not tolerate acts to coerce or intimidate students into taking the ISAT.

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