Why I boycotted the Prairie State test

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Timothy Anderson, VOYCE

Timothy Anderson, VOYCE

This spring, I got an unexpected tardy pass from the office at my school, telling me that I had been late to my homeroom. As it turned out, I was marked as late because my homeroom had been changed–I was assigned to a sophomore homeroom instead of a junior one. No one had talked to my mom or me about this. I only found about my demotion because I got a tardy.

The switch happened not just to me, but to 67 other juniors in my school who were told we did not have enough credits. However, in my case and many others, we had between 11 and 14.5 credits, which is enough to be a junior and qualify to take the test. Some students did not have enough credits to be juniors in the first place, but that still does not explain why they were promoted to junior year in the fall and then demoted to sophomore status right before the Prairie State test.

Under so much pressure to raise its Prairie State test scores, the administration tried to take advantage of the promotion policy and demote a third of the junior class, just to keep us from taking the test and bringing down the school’s scores. I was having challenges at school but the last thing I would have expected is that my school system would demote me instead of supporting me.

This is not what school systems are supposed to do to students. They are supposed to provide extra support to students like me who don’t do well on tests or who might fall behind. But instead, they tried to make us disappear.

I care about my education. I want to go to college and to study music engineering. But when the future of a school rests on its test scores, students like me get demoted or pushed out. That’s why I joined the more than 100 juniors who boycotted the second day of the PSAE. We boycotted school, and the test, to send a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel: School closings and student push-out, driven by high-stakes testing, must end.

Many adults disagreed with us, including CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Byrd-Bennett even tried to threaten and intimidate us, sending out a parent letter that insinuated that students who didn’t take the test on Wednesday would not be promoted to senior year.

This was a scare tactic that seemed designed to mislead parents. It did not give any information about the state-required make-up test in May or the established CPS practice of promoting juniors who sit for just one of the two days of the test. And what CPS didn’t realize was that these threats had actually already happened to me. CPS was threatening to withhold our promotion to senior year, but I had already been demoted in March as a direct result of Mayor Emanuel’s pressure on schools to raise test scores or face closure.

When these scare tactics did not prevent us from boycotting, CEO Byrd-Bennett scolded us, saying that “the only place that students should be during the school day is in the classroom with their teachers getting the education they need to be successful in life.” I agree with this statement, but does Mayor Emanuel? CPS pressure on schools to raise test scores actually leads to students getting pushed out of school. Many of the juniors who were demoted at my school started talking about dropping out because it was such a discouraging experience.

If CEO Byrd-Bennett and her boss, Mayor Emanuel, actually want every student to receive a good education every day, they should limit high-stakes tests, not use them to justify school closings in mainly African-American communities. The announcement that they are ending just one of a number of CPS tests given to kindergarteners is like the promise to give air-conditioning to students whose schools get closed. It’s a token effort given to us in the hopes that we will go away.

We want our boycott to be a wake-up call to Mayor Emanuel and CPS. We demand and end to testing-driven school closings, under-resourced schools, and student push-out. And we’re not going away.

Timothy Anderson is a student leader with Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS) and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE).