Teachers at 2nd school boycott ISAT

Activists say they know of 1,000 kids at 57 schools who are also skipping the test.

March 1, 2014

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
“One more day, one more minute of testing was too many,” said Drummond teacher Anne Carlson (center). The teachers say they will refuse to administer the ISAT next week.

Updated March 2, 2014, 3:00 pm.

Teachers at a second Chicago public school are saying they’ll refuse to give their students the mandated Illinois Standards Achievement Test next week, setting the stage for a potential showdown with the school district, which has suggested teachers could be dismissed or even lose their teaching certificates

Despite threats, teachers at Drummond Montessori in the Bucktown neighborhood say they will refuse to administer the ISAT.

“After everything was thought about and considered, we decided we had to stand on the side of right and boycott the ISAT test,” said middle school math teacher Juan Gonzalez. He was flanked by two other teachers. They said “a majority” of the small school’s teachers assigned to give the test will refuse. 

Earlier in the week, teachers at Little Village’s Saucedo Scholastic Academy declared they had unanimously decided not to give the ISAT. The exam is required by state and federal law.

Drummond teacher Katie McCarthy says the teacher protests are not about the ISAT in particular.

“It’s about a culture of testing, about high-stakes standardized testing,” McCarthy said.

The Drummond teachers said they feared for their jobs, but felt they had to make a “principled stand.”

Teachers at both schools have said they feel emboldened by large percentages of parents who have opted their children out of this year’s test.

Chicago parent Cassie Cresswell, part of the anti-testing  group More Than  A Score, says she knows of more than 1,000 children in at least 57 schools citywide whose parents have yanked them from the ISAT. Creswell said the group has begun getting calls from parents in the suburbs who want to pull their children.

A tersely worded letter (see below) from Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to Chicago principals on Thursday asked them to “notify your staff” that teachers could lose their certification for encouraging students to boycott the ISAT. Such severe consequences exist in state law to prevent teachers and schools from trying to convince low-performing students not to take annual accountability exams.

The letter—which was divided into two sections, “Facts” and “Repercussions”— also said CPS would “discipline any employee who encourages a student not to take the ISAT or who advocates against the ISAT on work time for insubordination and for any disruption of the educational process.”

And it said schools could lose funding—or even have their accreditation reviewed—if low percentages of students tested.

That claim wasn’t backed up by federal  education officials, who said schools wouldn't "necessarily" lose funding. Depending on a school’s performance in prior years, schools could be forced to target some of their Title I funding to tutoring, the officials said.

The Illinois State Board of Education is urging parents to let their kids take the exam, saying it gives parents and educators a sense of how well their students are meeting new, more rigorous state standards; and, ISBE pointed out in a letter to Chicago Public Schools (attached below), it’s the only test that lets parents see how well their child's school is doing compared to others.

Parent Sabrina Craig said the teachers’ boycott is giving her sixth grader a different lesson. “I’m so proud of our teachers for showing leadership on this issue and for being role models for our students— that … when you gather with your community and see that something needs to be changed, you speak up and speak out and collaborate and take a stand.”

Drummond teacher Juan Gonzalez said he was prepared to be escorted from school if it came to that when ISAT testing starts at Drummond Tuesday.

WBEZ has updated this story to more accurately reflect comments made to the reporter by federal education officials.