Chicago parent group takes ISAT protest to state Board of Ed
BY BRIAN SLODYSKO Staff Reporter March 3, 2014 8:04PM
Updated: April 5, 2014 6:33AM
A group of parent-activists cried foul Monday, after the state board of education informed Chicago Public Schools that the district could face “disciplinary action” if it does not administer the annual state achievement test to all students this week.
The Illinois State Board of Education made its position clear in a letter sent Friday to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who had previously indicated parents could decide whether their children should take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. The letter also raised the possibility that funding could be withheld from the district if the test is not properly administered during this week’s testing period.
“Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said twice that children can be opted out of this test,” Cassie Cresswell, an organizer for the group More Than A Score, told reporters Monday at the James R. Thompson Center, where board of education offices are housed, in downtown Chicago. “This is an egregious violation of parental rights.”
The activists then delivered a formal complaint to the office of the state education board, protesting the state’s position that test packets must, at least, be handed out to students — even if their parents already requested that they not be given the test.
In general, state mandated tests have proven unpopular with some parents, who believe too much emphasis is placed on test preparation to the detriment of well-rounded classroom instruction.
The state’s letter to CPS puts the district in an uncomfortable position.
Not only had the district previously told parents they could opt their students out of the test, teachers at two schools have said they will boycott administering the ISAT. That prompted CPS administrators to threaten teachers with losing their state education certification.
The test itself, which is required of all student in grades 3 through 8, will be discontinued next year when a new standardized achievement test will be adopted across Illinois.
CPS will administer the ISAT “to students in accordance with state and federal law,” CPS spokesman Joel Hood wrote in an emailed statement Monday. “The [ISBE] requires school districts to distribute the exam to all students . . . to give them the opportunity to participate.”
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.
A state board of education spokeswoman said that while other states allow parents to decide whether their children can take state tests, Illinois law does not currently allow that. While they must be given a copy of the test, the pupils are allowed to refuse to take the ISAT without fear of punishment, board spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.
“They can then sit quietly, or if the district allows, read a book,” Fergus said.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union announced in a news release that parents at roughly 74 schools have already optioned their children out of the ISAT test.
What’s more, CTU officials said that CPS made a series of so-called robocalls over the weekend, warning parents that the district may lose federal and state funding if they keep their children from taking the test.
CTU spokesman Jesse Sharkey said that the state board of education has a “difficult political problem on its hands.”
“They are trying to be firm about the importance of state testing,” Sharkey said. “At the same time, the difficulty is that the ‘test of record’ has become obsolete.”
He said rhetoric from CPS and the state board has been overblown, which presents a confusing situation for teachers who have to administer the test.
“A little bit of clarity would be great on this one and also, frankly, a little bit of sanity,” Sharkey said “The threatening rhetoric is hyped up to a point where it’s really not useful.”
Activists with More Than A Score argue that the U.S. Supreme Court has widely ruled parents have the right to make education decisions for their children.
By requiring children — not their parents — to refuse the test, CPS is setting some youngsters up for an awkward authority-defying moment, the group said.
“My 10-year-old shouldn’t’ have to refuse a test and be put in an awkward situation,” said Wendy Katten, whose son attends Burley Elementary in Lake View.
The activists asked ACLU of Illinois to take up their cause in court, though a spokesman for the civil liberties group said they have “not taken a position on this matter at this time.”