Movement Against Standardized Tests Resurges in Chicago

A Chicago student protesting high-stakes testing. (Photo: sarah-ji/cc/flickr)

Movement Against Standardized Tests Resurges in Chicago

Chicago Teachers Union launches Let Us Teach campaign to protest tests that 'undermine education'

The national wave of resistance to standardized testing continues this week, with teachers in Chicago launching a campaign to push back against the tests they see as a "major drain on classroom time, undermine education, and stand in stark contrast to the proven student assessment tools" developed by classroom teachers.

At a press conference on Thursday, a National Day of Action on Testing, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced their "Let Us Teach" campaign, which encourages parents to opt out of standardized testing and urges the Chicago Public Schools to put an immediate end to testing students in 2nd grade and younger.

Among the problems with the standardized tests CTU President Karen Lewis detailed was how they are used punitively "to justify decisions about student and school rankings; to target so-called 'failing or underperforming' schools; and ultimately, to make decisions about school closings."

The intense testing raises questions, said Lewis. "How much is CPS paying for these standardized testing programs and to whom?" Also, asked Lewis, students in some of the city's most elite private schools don't have to take these tests, so why must CPS students?

Catalyst Chicagoreports that while CPS officials have made some changes in testing policies,

cutting the number of required exams to the literacy assessments for primary grades, the annual state tests given in the spring and the assessments used for teacher evaluations, [...] CTU President Karen Lewis said the change in policy has since been followed by the introduction of more benchmark performance assessments that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards that CPS is implementing. And while these tests may not be officially required, Lewis said that the network offices are pressuring schools to administer some of them.

In January a boycott against a mandated standardized test at Seattle's Garfield High School, which ultimately led to victory, received national press coverage as well as national support. The next month, teachers, parents, students and other supporters cross-country joined a Day of Action in solidarity with the teachers' standardized test boycott.

As Owen Davis writes in The Nation, the spark from Seattle has spread far and wide:

[W]hile Seattle attracted the lion's share of national media attention, schools throughout the country saw increasing numbers of students refuse standardized tests. Denver, Chicago, Portland, Providence and elsewhere witnessed opt-outs large and small. [...]

As standardized testing has grown, so too has its shadow. In 2011, the United Opt Out movement was established to counter the pro-testing mania sweeping the country. Its website provides opt-out guides for forty-nine states and the District of Columbia, and connects a burgeoning community of grumbling and disaffected parents.

"I didn't ask for high-stakes testing," says Tim Slekar, a co-founder of United Opt Out. Slekar sees participating in a large-scale opt-out movement as a way for him and his children to "reclaim public education."


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