It’s official: Chicago Public Schools Parents may opt their children out of excessive testing

from Substance News. See for the full article.

by: Sharon Schmidt

In late March the Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins replied to my concerns in a letter. This is what she wrote about opting out:

“Parents are not required to sign releases for their children to participate in any assessment series. If parents choose to exclude their children, the school has no obligation to provide an alternate activity. Your child will be asked to engage in a silent, self-guided activity.”

So, my third grader sat out the May 10 and 11 Learning First Benchmark tests and the May 17 Scantron. He read many chapters of the new Rick Riordan novel, The Red Pyramid, and probably memorized his new Calvin and Hobbes collection.

We certainly appreciated his principal’s willingness to accomodate our decision.

A Parent’s Guide to Standardized Tests in Chicago Public Schools

This is a DRAFT prepared with the CORE Testing Task Force. If you know of additional tests or have corrections, please email me.

If your child attends Chicago Public Schools, they are subject to a complicated and overwhelming system of standardized tests. While students are repeatedly filling in bubbles on answer sheets and preparing to fill in bubbles on answer sheets, they are missing out on the fun, creative, exploration of the world that education could and should be about. Instead, the current testing regime replaces the joy of learning with the bureaucracy of learning. Parents, we are not alone in our feeling that these tests terrorize our students, our fellow parents, our student’s teachers and our entire schools.

Standardized Tests in Chicago Public Schools.
Test Frequency and population Description
First and Second Grade
DIBELS 3 times a year

All students

  • Arch-nemesis of elementary school teachers largely because it must be administered orally and individually, usually without additional support. Thus, while the teacher is in the hall testing one student at a time for days and days, what are the other students doing? Watching movies or busywork, unsupervised. Ask your child, she’ll tell you.
Third through Eighth Grade
ISAT Once a year, for an entire week

All students

  • Ultimate terror for every child. If your 3rd, 6th or 8th grade child doesn’t score higher than 1 in 4 of her peers, she’ll flunk and have to attend summer school. No matter what her grades were. Then, if she doesn’t score higher than 1 in 4 of his peers then, she’ll have to repeat the grade. And, even though your child tests for a week, CPS only uses only one of the math and reading sessions to determine promotion. Thus, 30 or 40 bubbles can overrule an entire year of evaluations from your student’s teacher.
  • That same subsection is used to determine if your seventh grader can take another test for potential enrollment in a selective enrollment school.
  • Also, if your child’s school doesn’t score to keep up with ever-increasing state requirements, the entire school faces possible closure.
  • And, by the way, the test is SECRET. The tests are never made public.
  • In 2008, the state incorrectly scored the ISAT. Thus, CPS sent thousands to summer school based on faulty scores.
Benchmark testing Three times a year for three days each

All students

  • Incredibly boring and redundant.
  • Tests basically the same information as the ISAT.
  • Not currently a high-stakes test.
Constitution Test Once a year

Seventh and Eighth grade

  • Students must pass this test, one on the state constitution and one on the federal constitution, to graduate.
  • The blue study booklet is hated by all.
  • It is purely a memory test.
  • If she fails, she takes it over and over.
ACCESS Once a year, for three days and more.

English Language Learners but often affects all students

  • Does this test know what’s best for your child? CPS thinks so. If your child tests to a certain score, she is removed from the bilingual program. If she can not test to that score, she will never be removed.
  • Students are tested in English proficiency in four? different tests, Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking? The speaking portion is administered individually, thus your child is pulled out of class, missing whatever the teacher is teaching for that time period.
  • Even if your child is not an English Language Learner, she might be affected. For instance, if the Language Arts teacher is testing one class, your child cannot go to Language Arts.
Curriculum-based” 4 times a year

Special Education students

  • Despite being “included”, your child is removed from her general education class and tested again and again.
  • Worth noting, while special education students are often set in a general education, when standardized tests come around, they are quite obviously removed from the rest of the class to test.
Explore Once a year for two days

Eighth graders

  • More of the same. Two sections test basically the same information as the ISAT. The other section is an interest inventory designed to “help” students select a career.
  • The results from this test are used to “program” students in high school. In other words, students are placed in remedial or advanced classes based on this test rather than student, parent, or teacher input.
High school entrance exam Once a year

Selected seventh graders

  • AGAIN testing basically the same information as the ISAT.
  • This test, combined with the student’s ISAT scores, provides most of the determination as to whether your child will be the one of ten to get in to a selective enrollment high school.
  • SECRET test, not viewable by the public.
Algebra exit exam Once a year to eighth graders
  • Students must pass this exam to get high school credit for their Algebra class.
NAEP, Scantron, TRC
  • Other tests your school may have signed up for or been selected to take
Total 15 days minimum.

24 days for an eighth grade special education, English language learner (which does happen)

A massive waste of time, money and energy that bores your child and makes school boring.

We have listed these as “days” of testing because a 1 ½ hour test disrupts the entire schedule of a school day: classes are eliminated or shortened, bilingual or special education services are eliminated or shortened, even lunch may be switched to a cold lunch or have its regular time moved.

Please Send a Postcard to Michelle Obama

Mine is below. Please send yours to:

First Lady Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Templates and more information is here:

Dear Michelle Obama,

I was at Grant Park on election night. Your husband reminded us of the changes that occurred in the last 100 years, and asked us to dream of what life would be like in 100 more. It is important to think how we might measure the success of these changes, as the essential element for determining our future is not the measure itself, but the unit of measure – for that reveals something deeper about ourselves and our values.

Ultimately, the measure of life must be made by each of us, both personally and socially, by the lives we lead, the meanings we hold, and the moments we share. Each of us, and all of us, must determine what it means to have a life worth living. This is not an abstraction, but rather, a moment by moment deliberation that we make now, and that we will also make one hundred years from now.

That is the greater purpose of education – to enable each us to determine who we want to become, and then to help us in that becoming.

Which is quite a different vision of education from what many of us experience now – the one that focuses on technological processes and subject-matter knowledge and standardized tests.

The souls of ourselves and our children are at stake. What will prepare us for the unforeseen challenges of the next one hundred years is not the ability to fill in the right bubble, but the ability to ask questions that understand both the urgency of now and the direction of our future. These are not multiple-choice questions that can be answered in number 2 pencil with desks separated. Indeed, these are questions yet to be asked. However, we know they will have to be answered by the actions of people coming together to remake the worlds around them. Rather than education that values a student’s life only by its measure, let’s create an education that values each student as a life beyond measure.


Wade Tillett

Merit Pay: What are they paying for?

I don’t really care if merit pay increases test scores or not, because I don’t think test scores are a measure of what education is all about. Still, if they do not raise test scores, as this report states, then why are they paying? To bust the union? To pave the way for privatization? To reduce teacher salaries? All of the above?

Merit Pay in Chicago Public Schools?

from the CORE Testing Task Force

Merit Pay in Chicago Public Schools?

Does the idea of having your salary based on your students’ test scores make you mad?

It should.

  • Chicago Public Schools has already implemented a pilot merit pay program called the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) in 29 schools.

  • The current Chicago Teachers Union administration (Marilyn Stewart and the UPC) supports the program. The current CTU leadership has even sent around a union representative to voice support at the presentations to pitch the program to different schools. Marilyn listed TAP as one her great accomplishments with Arne Duncan at his last Chicago Board of Education meeting.

  • The TAP program links teacher pay to students’ test scores. At first, teacher pay is mainly linked to school scores. As the years go by, more and more of your pay is determined by only your students’ scores.

  • In the merit pay pilot program, you are in competition with your colleagues for a limited pool of money. The worse your students do, the more money another teacher can make.

Let’s not give more power to Chicago Public Schools Administration and the standardized tests.

It’s not too late. CORE is fighting to stop the spread of merit pay and other insidious misuses of standardized tests. If elected, CORE will defend Chicago Teachers Union members from pay linked to test scores in the next contract negotiation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • But I heard the money is only a “bonus” on top of base salary?

    • Chicago Public Schools is using this as a strategy to legitimate merit pay. For example, at the next round of contract negotiations, CPS will likely offer “bonuses” for higher test scores with less base salary increase. How would the union defend our members if each teacher was paid differently based on a secret test? 10,000 grievances? Our basic bargaining power would be gone.

  • What about “value-added” scores?

    • The pilot merit pay program pays based on student score increases. This is quite problematic. In 2008, remember that ISBE had to rescore all the ISATs due to a scoring error. In 2010, Susan Zupan, a CORE member, found in her analysis that some grades increase their scores more than others every year.* This means it is not fair to compare across grade levels. Also, the tests were not designed to be used at a per-class level.

  • Wouldn’t this encourage competition among colleagues and maybe even cheating?

    • Yes. It also discourages cooperation and collegial sharing of methods and materials.

CORE’s Testing Task Force looks into how the misuse of standardized tests interferes with making schools that serve the best interests of our students. The CORE Testing Task Force is open to all who are interested in advocating and acting to create schools that work for kids.

For more information, or to get involved, please visit the CORE website:

*For Susan Zupan’s data go to

Media Literacy: Deconstructing and Constructing

Here, we are breaking media literacy into two components, deconstruction and construction of media.

Deconstructing media

Students will analyze existing media to see how a message is composed. Because advertisements are fairly short and blatant, we will use those for now.

What is the goal of the advertisement? (To sell.) How is that goal conveyed? What propaganda techniques are used? How does each production decision influence the overall message? What is the message of each production decision?

An example analysis is here:
Media Literacy Project Deconstruction Gallery
PBS Kids Don’t Buy It Advertising Tricks

Here is some source material students might use:
Magazine ads (Or use a real magazine to cut out)
TV Commercials: The Clapper and other 80’s stuff
TV Public Service Announcements

Propaganda techniques are here:
Institute of Propaganda Analysis
Sourcewatch has a more extensive list

Constructing media
By creating their own ads, counter-ads, or public service announcements, students gain an intimate understanding of the many decisions that go into creating media.
Video basics (storyboarding, etc) are at kids vid. Overview of video is at video101.
Counter ads are at adbusters and student work is at the Media Literacy Project Counter Ad Gallery or see Dove’s Evolution.

How this media should be constructed is important also. Students could cut and paste on ads in a magazine, create their own original print ads by hand, or use an image editing program, or create a one-minute advertisement skit, or actually shoot and edit the video, or use flash or powerpoint.

Here’s some of the best resources I found on Media Literacy
A great guide with lesson plans and 5 core concepts and 5 key questions is in the practice section of the Media Lit Kit at the Center for Media Literacy.
Media Literacy Online Project has a huge number of links and resources.
As does the edselect site.

Evaluating software and online resources

To make an evaluation of whether or not to use, and how to use, educational software and online resources, we must have an educational context and purpose in mind first.

To avoid merely discussing this as theory, let’s learn by doing.
Take a look at the media literacy post. We will look for online resources we could use for a lesson on deconstructing media using advertisements.
As we look for these resources, we will start developing a rubric of things to look for when evaluating software and online resources.

User interface: Easy to navigate.
Example products
Visual: fonts, colors, navigation, graphics, sound
Age appropriate
Does it work? Or what I have to do to make it work?
Engaging content
Accessible content
What else is on the website?
Appropriate advertisements
What technology is available?
What does this allow to do that we couldnät do otherwise

Of course, there are others who have come up with ways to evaluate educational software, so let’s compare their way to ours to see if there’s something we should add to ours.
Check out Dr. Justus Randolph’s rubric for show-and-tell (bottom of page), they might make a good rubric for evaluating software also!
Try the Buyers’ Worksheet
Or the Guide for Evaluating Software
The ISTE NETS standards have some good ideas for performance indicators.
Michigan Teaching Standards 7c and 7d address evaluating software.

Testing Task Force Launch

CORE is launching a task force to look into how the misuse of standardized tests interferes with making schools that serve the best interests of our students. The CORE task force is open to all who are interested in advocating and acting to create schools that work for kids.

We will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 20th at 4pm at Manny’s Coffeeshop, 1141 South Jefferson St.

Our first task will be to encourage teachers that they are not alone in their feeling that tests are terrorizing students, parents, teachers and entire schools. The current testing regime replaces the joy of learning with the bureaucracy of learning.

We know that good schools:

  • encourage joyful learning,
  • value exploration, wonder and awe,
  • have students that are interested and actively engaged,
  • address students’ concerns,
  • have teachers that work together to address students’ needs and character,
  • support students beyond the school walls,
  • have the ability to abandon the lesson plan and follow teachable moments,
  • build on student and community strengths,
  • have practicing student citizens.

The current testing mania interferes with each of the points above. We will examine how.

In addition to giving voice to what schools could and should be, we will look into alternatives to tests that can better provide “accountability” and equity. We will look into misuse of test scores for promotion, school closings, and “bonus” merit pay in the TAP program.

There will be a testing workshop at the Jan. 9 Malcolm X meeting. In addition, please save March 4, the National Day of Action in Defense of Education for potential action.

Hope to see you there!

Karen Lewis, Norine Gutekanst, Wade Tillett

What kids love at school

  • friends
  • a caring adult
  • food
  • socialization
  • something to do
  • structure
  • purpose to action
  • to explore
  • to feel needed
  • to talk and be listened to
  • to listen
  • a refuge
  • awe and wonder
  • to value others
  • to value others’ work
  • to be valued
  • to experience
  • to test the limits
  • to challenge
  • to question
  • to create a product
  • to be accepted
  • validation
  • attention
  • comfort (basic needs: heat, water, plumbing, etc.)
  • can be a kid (not care for younger siblings, etc.)
  • to understand
  • to receive a compliment
  • to be seen, recognized
  • to construct identity

In addition to teaching for Chicago Public Schools, I teach Curriculum and Instruction in the Middle School through UIC to mainly Chicago Public School teachers. We came up with the above list of things that have inherent value at school: what they love. It shows that what’s important at school is a lot broader than the “content”.

The Chicago high school farce

From a student perspective there are two types of high schools:

  • those you have to apply to
  • and those you don’t.

Most students go to those you don’t have to apply for – their neighborhood school. But they go there feeling like they weren’t “good enough” to “get into” one of the “good schools.” I’ve been trying to encourage my eighth graders to see their neighborhood school as a good option, as an option that still leaves their future college and career paths open. Still, students read the action louder than the words and the reality of Chicago Public Schools is this, according to our counselor:

  • To even take the high school application exam, you must get a stanine of 5 or more in math and reading on the state standardized test in 7th grade. This eliminates 4 of 10 students.
  • If all 6 of those students apply to the selective enrollment schools, only 1 is accepted.
  • Thus, 9 of 10 students feel they have been told they are “not good enough”.

Before a student even walks into a neighborhood high school, she feels like she is going to a place for leftovers.