Test protest: Chicago teachers say they'll refuse to give ISAT

Teachers could face dismissal; union vows to "strongly defend" them.

February 25, 2014

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If they follow through with their vow, teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood will become the first in Illinois to refuse to administer the state's ISAT exam. The teachers say they are forced to administer too many tests.

Protesting what they say is too much standardized testing in schools, teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy declared Tuesday they will refuse to administer the state-mandated Illinois Standards Achievement Tests that are scheduled to begin next week.

“This has been building. We’ve been discussing this for a long time, and we finally said enough is enough,” special education teacher Sarah Chambers told reporters at a frigid Tuesday afternoon news conference outside the school, where she was joined by fellow teachers, supportive parents and students, and  Chicago Teachers Union officials.

Chambers said “about 40” Saucedo teachers scheduled to administer the ISAT voted in a secret ballot referendum Tuesday morning to boycott the test, and “every teacher voted to refuse to give the test—100 percent. Unanimous,” she said.

The action could cost Saucedo teachers their jobs.

The teacher boycott is a new development in a growing backlash against testing in Chicago public schools—most of it led by parents up to now.

The ISAT has become a target this year because it’s being phased out. In Chicago—where the exam usually carries especially high stakes— scores won’t count for school or teacher ratings, student promotions, or admission to selective schools. 

Teachers at Saucedo say they were bolstered by the 320 parents at the school who have yanked their kids from the test. Jason Reese is one of them. His seventh-grade daughter sat in the passenger seat of the family’s minivan at dismissal, reading her second novel of the week. Reese says he opted his children out of the ISAT because “they’re constantly taking tests over and over again. They need to get more instruction in the classroom as opposed to being tested for everything that they do.”

The parent group “More than a Score” has encouraged parents to have their kids skip the test. The group says parents at 38 different schools have opted their children out so far. The “CORE” caucus within the teachers union, which currently controls the union, has also been running a campaign to encourage parents to opt their children out.

But the district has defended the exam. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has sent letters home to parents asking them not to pull their children out of the test. It will “help teachers tailor instructional planning for the following year,” the district said in an emailed statement. The test will also give them a taste of questions aligned to the state's new “Common Core” curriculum.

The Illinois State Board of Education believes this is the first time a group of teachers has refused to give the state-mandated exams. A Seattle high school gained national attention last year when teachers there refused to give a standardized test. In late 2002, teachers at Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago said they would refuse to give a district-mandated exam that was unpopular with teachers, the Chicago Academic Standards Exam. CPS eventually ditched it.

Teachers union vice president Jesse Sharkey called the Saucedo teachers “courageous” and “principled” and said he hopes more schools follow suit in the coming days. The union said it would “strongly defend” Saucedo teachers from any discipline, which Sharkey admitted could include dismissal, though he said it would be “absurd” for the district to fire teachers “for insisting on the right to teach—which is what they’re really doing.”

The union has opposed the widening use of student standardized testing in the district; some of that testing helps determine teachers’ performance ratings.

In a statement, CPS said "district employees that fail to execute their job responsibilities face appropriate disciplinary actions.”