On the day that many schools began administering the ISAT, state education officials told parents that they have no legal right to opt their children out of the mandatory test and that all students must be given the test and have the directions for taking it read to them.

“It is the law,” said Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Matt Vanover. “Parents cannot opt their children out.”

After a meeting with ISBE’s general counsel during which this message was delivered, Cassie Creswell of the anti-testing group More than a Score was incredulous. “How can they say there is no legal right to opt out?” she said, noting that in other states, such as New York State, large groups of parents had opted out of standardized tests. Though small numbers of parents have opted their children out of tests in past years, the movement to boycott the ISAT—including a boycott declared by the faculties of two high-achieving schools—has drawn more attention to a practice that has flown under the radar until recently. 

Creswell and 34 other parents filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday, asking ACLU attorneys to bring a case against ISBE for not allowing students to opt out of the exam. The parents say that their due process rights will be violated if the test is put in front of their children, despite their objection.  “As a parent, I have the right to guide the education of my son,” said Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand. 

The parents said they will have to send their children to school with instructions about how to disobey their teachers. 

“I told my daughter to lay her head down and say ‘I refuse to waste my time on this,’” said Rosemary Vega.

Over the past weeks, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has sent out several letters urging parents to have their children take the ISAT, which is being phased out after this year, as well as the NWEA, another standardized test. Parents have focused their criticism on Byrd-Bennett, who they accuse of putting out misleading information about the consequences of not taking the tests.

One of the points Byrd-Bennett has made is that CPS risks a loss of federal funding if too few students take the test. On Monday, Creswell said that ISBE’s general counsel acknowledged to parents that there is no significant risk of losing money, though Creswell said he added that there was “not zero risk.”

Vanover would not confirm that the threat of losing federal funding was minuscule, but he wouldn’t say that any real risk existed either. “Anytime you break a law, there is a chance of repercussions,” he said.

Over the past few days, CPS has shifted some of the blame for its hard line stance to ISBE.

CPS officials said ISBE told them they must give out the tests to students, even those with opt-letters on file. CPS also noted that ISBE could revoke the certification of teachers who refuse to administer the test. Saucedo and Drummond teachers have said they will boycott the test.

Vanover said that there are other steps that could be taken short of revocation, but that ISBE would likely follow the lead of CPS.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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