Thou Shalt Test

Unsurprisingly, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has refused our request to opt our son out of the high-stakes test, known as the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), stating they must follow their own policies. However, CPS does NOT follow their own policies. They base promotion for third-graders on only one year of tests although their policy requires two years, and have yet to send me the required annual promotion review and promotion data that shows this policy is fair across race and ethnicity. In addition, I question the statistical reliability of these tests on a per-student basis, and have requested this information from the state.

More generally however, the basic problem is that CPS uses one or two 40 minute tests given on Math and Reading to undermine thousands of hours of teacher-student efforts.

We are still attempting to find other ways to opt our child out of the test. See below.

Following are the details.

All students must take test

My principal received this email regarding our request:

I did find out and just confirmed with Dr. Alice Painter of OEAS. I will assume that this child does not have an IEP and is not an ELL student. The answer is no, they cannot opt out of the ISAT for their third grade son. CPS is bound by the policies that they approve and pass, and we as CPS people must follow the policies. I’ve attached the policy for you here. The definition of DWA on the first page and the top of the second page pretty much say it all. Please let me know if you have questions.

The parent’s letter that you faxed to me mentions that other parents in Illinois have opted out – but we at CPS must follow our own policies. Hope this helps!

Susan S. Paik
Management Support Director
Area One Office, Chicago Public Schools

Promotion based on test score

However, Chicago Public Schools is NOT following their own promotion policy (referenced above, available here: elementary-school-promotion-policy-07-0926-po1).

First, according to their own policy they must use the last two annual assessments, yet 3rd grade is the first time they take this test, so that is simply not possible. Thus, they are basing promotion on one (not that two is much better) 40-minute nationally norm-referenced test in math, and one 40-minute nationally norm-referenced test in reading. If my child scores in the bottom 24th percentile in either one, he must go to summer school.

In the promotion policy, section I, it states that:

“District-wide assessment (DWA): The district-wide assessment will be either the norm-referenced component of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) (using the highest score from the last two annual assessments) or other norm-referenced assessment administered by the district or the summer assessment.”

Promotion data by race and ethnicity

In addition, CPS promotion policy section V states:

“The District will maintain all testing data by race and ethnicity of test-takers and shall annually review this data in regard to students who are promoted and retained pursuant to the requirements of the policy in order to ensure that there is no disparate impact based upon race or ethnicity created by operation of the policy. All such data shall be made available to a parent upon request.”

This information is not available online, and has not been sent to me as requested.

Yes, there is data on the Office of Research, Evaluation and Accountability site, such as the ISAT data for all schools in relation to the meets, exceeds, etc. categories. But that is criterion-referenced, while CPS uses only the Stanford10 norm-referenced data for promotion. I could not find that data anywhere, let alone broken down into subgroups. I found a promotion report, but not broken into subgroups.

What I am waiting to receive is a copy of the annual promotion review that CPS conducts, as well as the promotion data as described in section V of the promotion policy.

Opting out by not attending

The problem with just keeping my son home during the tests, as the Gills did, is that CPS misuses the tests for promotion purposes, and therefore he might have to go to summer school, which is viewed by students as punitive. So I have requested that he not go. Here is my email.

I guess my next question is what happens if I transfer him out for two weeks, home-school him, and then transfer him back in? What will happen to him if he does not have a standardized test score but meets all other promotion requirements (attendance, grades)?

My principal is currently checking with Central Office on this matter.

Statistical reliability of one test

Based on the reading on standardized tests that I have done, I seriously doubt that these tests are statistically reliable at a per-student level. I am writing the state to request this information. (Also remember that last year the scores from the state were incorrect and had to be rescored months later. In the meantime, students at Chicago Public Schools went to summer school based on the faulty test scores.)

  • Is the Illinois Standards Achievement Test statistically reliable enough on a per student basis that it can be used by a school district as the sole factor in determining student promotion, trumping all other factors?
  • Is the nationally norm-referenced subset of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test statistically reliable enough on a per student basis that it can be used by a school district as the sole factor in determining student promotion, trumping all other factors?
  • Is it the intention of the state that the ISAT, or a subset of the ISAT, be used by a school district as the sole factor in determining student promotion, trumping all other factors?
  • Is it the intention of the state that nationally norm-referenced data be used by a school district to determine student promotion by establishing a cut score based on their percentile ranking?
  • Is it the intention of the state that if a student does not have an ISAT score they will not be promoted, despite other available information such as grades, teacher’s assessments, and attendance?


  1. I got to your blog because I was thinking that I should have my child opt out. Reading this makes me now think that the hoops you are jumping through, the animosity this must cause with your child’s school and just the general tone of the matter are not worth a few days of testing. Thanks for, albeit backhandedly, changing my mind on opting out!

  2. Just wanted to say that this did not create animosity in my school and it is NOT just a few days of testing in Chicago Public Schools. My child risked actually being told he failed third grade based on his results, even though he gets A’s and B’s!

  3. I am real concerned that my son will have to repeat 4th grade, there’s no summer school for 4th grade, because of the ISAT. I want to opt him out, i believe its crazy to put kids through the standardized test when children learn differently. I only found this out tonight after talking to another parent that children that don’t do well on the ISAT will have to repeat their grade. What happens if their not good test takers? Their doomed!!!! What can I do?

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