Students want to boycott state test

High schoolers take issue with test results being used to evaluate teachers, close schools.

April 19, 2013

(Becky Vevea/WBEZ)
Students protest next week's state standardized tests at CPS headquarters.

A group of Chicago high school students plans to boycott part of next week’s state exam, because they’re upset with how their results are being used.

They said it’s unfair to judge whether their schools are good or not based on one test. (Chicago Public Schools uses a complicated formula to judge performance, but more than half of the possible points are based on parts of the PSAE)

Two student-led groups, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education and Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, called on their classmates to walk out of the second day of testing for the Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE, Wednesday. Students take the ACT during the first day and many don’t want to jeopardize their chances at college.

Isacc Velasquez, a junior at Curie High School and part of the group: Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, said he’s sick of test prep.

“Throughout the year, most of my teachers insisted on preparing us with EXPLORE quizzes as the administration believed it is efficient to prep us for the ‘big day,’” he said. “As a student, I found myself baffled, as I felt I had to make a decision between keeping up with current events and debates and doing well in school.”

The tests not only lead to more “test prep,” Velasquez said. They’ve also caused students to be demoted. Timothy Anderson, a junior at Gage Park High School, said he and 67 other juniors were demoted to sophomore status last month, in advance of the PSAE, but have since been promoted again.

A district spokeswoman said there was some confusion at Gage Park and other high schools about the number of credits needed to be eligible to take the test—11 or 14. The spokeswoman said it is 11 and at Gage Park, there are currently 23 students in their third year who don’t meet that standard.

The students promoting the boycott also took issue with their test results being used to evaluate teachers and principals and, in extreme cases, to close schools. CPS is not closing high schools this year.

Brian Stirgis, a senior at Robeson High School, said he thinks if they can get at least six percent of the junior class to walk out, the test data will be statistically invalid.

By law, however, all Illinois students are required to take the Prairie State Achievement Exam in order to graduate.

The boycott comes a day after parents of the city’s youngest students held a “play-in” at the district’s headquarters to protest the number of standardized tests now required in the primary grades. Those tests are district-mandated and not required by state law.

Opting-out of or boycotting standardized tests is not new, but it has gained momentum in Chicago recently. That’s partly due to an increase in testing young students and state laws that require teachers and administrators to be evaluated using student test scores.

CPS has no official “opt-out” policy, but spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the district is reviewing the testing schedule to “to ensure that each one adds value to children’s learning.” However, the PSAE and other state-required exams are not allowed to be eliminated.