Parents, union launch attack against testing

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Parents at Coonley and Ray elementary schools were among those at more than 30 schools around Chicago who circulated petitions today demanding that schools scale back on standardized testing.

They’re demanding an end to testing in preschool through 2nd grade, and fewer tests for older students. They also want the district to offer an accounting of the instruction time and money that is spent on test prep and test-taking.

The petition gathering was organized by the anti-testing More than a Score campaign, a coalition of the Chicago Teachers Union, Parents United for Responsible Education, Raise Your Hand, and Parents 4 Teachers. The union has long been opposed to the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, but new teacher evaluations incorporate a test-score component.

It is part of a national day of action to support teachers in Seattle who are boycotting the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, which CPS also uses. The test has recently been criticized because a U.S. Department of Education study found that its use had no effect on 4th– and 5th-grade students’ reading achievement.

CPS schools use the test two to three times a year, and it is one that has come in for criticism. At the January board meeting, teacher Anne Carlson, who teaches 4th– through 6th-grade at Drummond Montessori, cited the research and said testing in Chicago amounted to child abuse. Kindergarteners, she said, take as many as 14 district-mandated tests a year.

Dramatic changes are coming to the testing landscape in Chicago and Illinois. The Illinois State Board of Education plans to raise the cut-off scores on the ISAT test  and test scores are virtually certain to plummet across the board as a result. In 2014, new tests based on the Common Core Standards are expected to replace the ISAT, and scores on these tests are also expected, at least initially, to paint a dim picture of student achievement.

“Let’s play school…let’s play DIBELS”

Parent Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, who helped organize the petition gathering at Coonley, complains that her children even take tests when they are playing. “My older daughter, who is 8, said to my 5-year-old, ‘Hey, let’s play school… let’s play DIBELS,” Gutierrez said (DIBELS is an early literacy test.) “Teachers are put in a really awkward position of having to balance the district mandates with trying to provide a quality education.”

Julie Greenberg, whose son is in 2nd grade at Coonley, said that now that winter break has passed and the ISAT is approaching, “You can see the content of the homework is changing. It’s fill-in-the-bubble homework. I think we all know that’s not the best way our children learn.”

Others complain that for gifted students, testing takes away from the accelerated program. “They are re-hashing what they did a year ago,” said Coonley parent Steve Johnson, also a local school council member at Amundsen High School, who signed the petition. Johnson has one child in the school’s gifted program and another in the neighborhood program.

Parent Joy Clendenning had little luck getting signatures at Kenwood Academy High School, where few parents got out of their cars. But at Ray Elementary, she found more signers including Aisha Mays, who was dropping off a 1st-grade student. Mays quickly understood what Clendenning was petitioning against.

“I hate standardized testing,” Mays said. “I think it is stupid.”

Mays went onto say that she never performed well on standardized tests, but that had little bearing on her ability to make it through school and get a good job.

Clendenning, who has two children at Ray and two who have graduated, tells Mays that she knows her son’s 1st-grade teacher well and that she would trust her, as a professional, to get an accurate read on where her son is without a standardized test. Mays agrees, noting that the teacher comes early every Wednesday to provide extra help in reading for her son.

Not all parents at Ray signed the petition on the spot. Many wanted to take the information and read it. Some of them are concerned that, if they were to opt out of the testing, it would hurt the school and their child’s teacher.

Sabrina Miller, another parent at Ray who stopped to talk to Clendenning, said she never had a problem with testing. “It puts me in a mind frame of where my child is at,” she said. Before talking to Clendenning, Miller said she never thought about the drain that tests have on instructional time or on the district’s money. She decided to sign the petition.