With nearly 40 percent of their students already opting out of the ISAT, teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy—a high-achieving magnet school—took the bold step on Tuesday of voting to refuse to administer it.

In only one other instance—at a high school in Seattle last year—have teachers in one school made a unified group decision not to give a mandated test. National opponents of standardized testing applauded the decision and said it will send a signal across the country.

Late Tuesday, CPS officials released a brief statement, saying that employees who don’t administer test will “face appropriate disciplinary actions.” They did not specify what actions may be taken against employees.

“The District is committed to administering the exam and expects all CPS employees to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure we are in compliance with the law,” according to the statement, which was attributed to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-BennettWe also continue to encourage parents to support their children taking the exam, as the results help teachers tailor instructional planning for the following year.”

The statement also noted that Byrd-Bennett has “maximized instructional time” by reducing the number of standardized tests and lengthening the number of hours students are in school.

ISAT testing is conducted for eight hours over two weeks, starting on March 3. Testing opponents have already launched a drive to urge families in CPS to “opt out” of the ISAT, which is being administered for the last time this year.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo, says that teachers were emboldened by parents and the student council, which voted unanimously against taking the ISAT. She said that all the 3rd through 8th-grade teachers voted to participate in the boycott.

“Our students are tested and tested,” she said on Tuesday, just hours after the vote. “They cry over the test. They get nervous over the test.”

Chambers said Saucedo teachers were not going to tell the principal until after school, but that the principal so far has been quiet on the opt-out issue.  

Saucedo teachers are hoping that other CPS teachers will join them. Saucedo is a Level 1 magnet school in Little Village.

The Chicago Teachers Union is supporting the Saucedo teachers and vowed to fight any repercussions that might the teachers might face. The union would “mount a strong defense of this collective action,” according to a press release about the vote. 

In general, teachers are “disgusted and overwhelmed” by the amount of testing that they are required to administer, said Norine Gutekanst, organizing coordinator for the CTU. The ISAT, the NWEA-MAP and REACH exams are required and, in addition, network chiefs and principals have teachers administer extra tests.

The CTU estimates that CPS elementary students spend anywhere from 11 to 21 hours on testing.

“Nation will be watching” the latest salvo in the testing battle

This year, parents and teachers are especially critical of the ISAT. As the district transitions to the new Common Core Standards, the ISAT is being phased out. Next year students will be taking a standardized test based on the Common Core, called the PARCC.

To get students, parents and teachers used to the Common Core, CPS is using the results of the NWEA-MAP as a basis for important decisions, such as which students are promoted, how schools are rated academically and for teacher evaluation. 

As a result, many have concluded that the ISAT is a waste of time. “We think it doesn’t make any sense for teachers to have repercussions for not administering a test that doesn’t mean anything,” Gutekanst said.

However, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has insisted that the ISAT is important. She issued two letters to parents urging them not to opt out of either the NWEA or the ISAT.

Byrd-Bennett and district officials point out that the ISAT is still used for the federal government’s accountability system under No Child Left Behind. They say that the district could lose out on federal funding if less than 95 percent of students take the ISAT or if too many schools fail to meet the federal benchmark, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Those who favor opting out of the ISAT point out that AYP has become meaningless. This year, the law calls for 100 percent of students to meet standards on tests in order for a school to meet AYP—something that no school accomplished last year. Since 2001, only 11 schools have had all their students meet standards.

Cassie Cresswell, a leader with the group More than a Score, said it is now time for parents to stand with the Saucedo teachers and any others who refuse to administer the test.

“One thing is that CPS can really do nothing to a parent or a student who opts out,” she said. “But for a teacher, it is a much bigger deal. It might be seen as insubordination.”

Cresswell said that parents in 38 schools have opted out of the ISAT. At Saucedo, 300 of about 790 3rd through 8th graders opted out–the largest number–though about six or seven other schools have significant percentages, Cresswell said.

Cresswell and national anti-standardized test advocate Robert Schaeffer point to what happened in Seattle last year as an example for what could happen in Chicago. In Seattle, teachers refused to administer the NWEA-MAP test. Because parents rallied around them, the teachers did not face any consequences.

Schaeffer said the Chicago teachers could have an even bigger impact than the Seattle group, because CPS is such a big player in the education world.

“The nation will be watching,” he said

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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