Teachers: Children New To The U.S. Should Sit Out State Tests

empty classroom with desks 2
Bill Healy / WBEZ
empty classroom with desks 2
Bill Healy / WBEZ

Teachers: Children New To The U.S. Should Sit Out State Tests

Some Chicago teachers are calling on the state to allow new immigrant students to sit out the new standardized test.

“No child should be harrassed to take a test in a language they don’t understand,” said Nancy Serrano, an eighth-grade bilingual teacher, at Hernandez Middle School in Gage Park on the Southwest Side. She and a group of other teachers, parents and advocates talked about the issue outside the school Tuesday morning.

Schools have until the end of April to administer the Illinois Assessment of Readiness or the IAR. The IAR replaces the PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The PARCC, which had only been in use since 2015, was criticized for being too long and too difficult. The IAR is shorter, with more changes to the test planned in the coming years.

Under the PARCC, students in the country for less than a year were automatically exempt.

The Illinois State Board of Education confirms this is not the case with the IAR. But test scores from newcomers are being used as a baseline to measure growth and won’t count against the schools for accountability purposes. The state worked with the Latino Policy Forum on its assessment policies and the forum supported the testing of newcomers.

But Serrano has five students in her class right now who have been in the country for less than a year. She said she doesn’t feel comfortable putting a test in front of them.

“It harms our children with unnecessary stress, panic and anxiety,” she said.

Serrano said she has talked to these students about opting out of the test, even though in the past, teachers who have encouraged opting out have gotten in trouble with the school district. She said she is not afraid because she believes part of her job as a bilingual teacher is to stick up for her students.

But the Chicago Teachers Union and the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand called on the school district to be more supportive of students who opt out. Currently, state law does not allow parents to opt their children out of testing and instead requires that students do it.

“When they say it the first time [to school administrators], we ask that they not be asked over and over again,” said Maria Moreno, financial secretary for the CTU. “In addition, and to be very clear, we demand that you [CPS] do not retaliate against our educators who stand up for the rights of our parents and students.”

Advocates would like to see the law changed so that parents can opt their children out.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools says school districts are “legally prohibited from modifying testing requirements.” But schools are being told to provide an alternative activity for children who opt out.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Nancy Serrano has five students in her class who have been in the country for less than five years.