More teachers to boycott ISAT, as parents rally behind them

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In talking about her decision to refuse to administer the ISAT next week, Drummond Montessori teacher Ann Carlson said she felt little joy.

“I don’t have the hooray feeling,” she said at a press conference after school on Friday. “I feel like we are standing up, but we are fearful.”

It is unclear exactly how many teachers from the high performing Near Northwest Side elementary school are joining Saucedo teachers, who announced earlier this week that they will boycott the test. Carlson says more than half of the 15 third-to-eighth grade teachers voted in favor of the action.

The announcement came after a week in which the CPS administration took a hard stand—sending out numerous, sometimes conflicting and misleading letters—advising teachers to administer the test and parents to have their children take it.  More than a Score, the advocacy group spearheading the effort, said some parents in at least 60 schools have submitted opt-out letters.

CPS has said that teachers refusing to give the ISAT “will be disciplined” and face having their certification revoked, which would render them unable to teach.

“There has been extreme pressure on us,” said Juan Gonzalez, who teaches math and science at Drummond.  “We have to think about how this affects our livelihood. But we decided to stand on the side of right and boycott the ISAT.”

Carlson added: “One more minute of testing is too many.”

Because of the threats, parents held a rally at Saucedo in Little Village on Friday to show their support.

The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight any discipline, but in the latest CPS letter the position has seemed to soften. Teachers refusing to give the test, according to the letter, will be given the option of going home and not being paid or monitoring students who have opted out.

Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said it was clear that district leaders have not decided what they are going to do to the teachers.

Further, the idea that teachers would lose certification because “they are demanding to teach students who want to learn” is “ridiculous,” Sharkey said. Information on ISBE’s website shows that 16 teachers have had their certifications revoked since 1988 and that the vast majority were after the teacher was convicted of criminal activity or cheating.

Though many of the parents and teachers are against what they see as over-testing of students, the ISAT boycott has gained traction because it is being phased out. Also, CPS officials decided it would not be used for any major decisions, such as promotion or the selective enrollment admissions process.

CPS officials, with the support of state officials, warned that if too many parents have their children sit out of the test the district faces losing state and federal funding. But experts say that loss of such funding is unprecedented and at most it could trigger reallocating funds, but even that is highly unlikely and takes time to kick in.

Futhermore, the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, has fallen out of favor and the Department of Education has issued 42 states waivers from the requirements. Illinois also submitted a request for a waiver, but it has yet to be approved. 

“There is no real enforcement of NCLB anymore,” said Andrew Porter, education dean at the University of Pennsylvannia.

Through this week, CPS messaging around the ISAT boycott has been conflicting at times. At one point, CPS issued a webinar to principals that seemed to indicate that opted-out students had to sit among their classmates, be handed the ISAT and be read instructions. Then, it would be incumbent on the student to refuse the test.

“If a student refuses to test they must remain silent while other students test,” according to the webinar. “Students MAY NOT engage in any other activities that would disrupt the testing environment.”

More than a Score’s Cassie Cresswell said this was “immoral and unethical” as it put students as young as eight in the awkward position of disobeying their teachers.

Later, on Friday, CPS sent a letter out saying that students who have been opted out of the test could be brought to another classroom and allowed to read independently or do other work, though they would still be given the test and read the instructions.