Opt out threats continue – UPDATED

Rocking the ISATSprepUPDATE: The Principal of Franklin has sent an apology of sorts to parents at the school for yesterday’s letter discussed below. Kudos to her for being a big enough person to say she’s sorry – not every CPS administrator (including Barbara Byrd-Bennett) has the decency to do that. However, there are still major problems with this attempt to justify the excessive testing in our schools.

Today’s letter:

Dear Families,

First and foremost I want to express my sincere apologies for the tone of my letter yesterday. I did not intend to upset anyone and I am sorry that I did. I’ve heard from many of you since I sent that letter and now I want to clarify the standardized test information.

I am proud of our teachers. They work hard all year long to prepare our students for a variety of achievement tests—the ISAT, the Selective Enrollment test, NWEA, and others. The work that they do is not only to prepare for standardized tests but, more importantly, to prepare your children to be excellent students overall, and teach them skills, including how to take test, that will serve them well throughout their school years.

There are a number of tests that we will administer and their results are used in different ways.
·         The SQRP:  CPS has developed the SQRP to rate the schools in the system. Therefore, our scores on the SQRP will be used to rate Franklin, along with every other CPS school.
·         The ISAT:  The ISAT will still be used for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) .  The data will be reflected on our school report card. Additionally, the ISAT data is a valuable tool for our teaching staff at Franklin.  We use the ISAT data to differentiate and individualize instruction. It helps us get better at our practice and set priority goals, especially with the new Continuous Improvement Work Plan (CIWP)  process that is happening right now.  We also know that prospective families look at ISAT, NWEA, and other data when considering schools.

I want to clarify an important point: you may opt out of the ISAT and any test. I apologize that I did not give you accurate information on this point in my letter yesterday. I also want to be clear with you on this point: my hope is that most families will allow their children to take the test so that we as a school can have all the tools available to us to help us focus our instruction, identify gaps in achievement among the diverse population for our school and work toward continuous improvement in our teaching.

Franklin is a school with so much talent. Our teachers and students achieve in both academics and the arts. We have a supportive group of parents, teachers, and community. To weather challenging times, our community can and must come together to make it work—and to thrive. I want focus on this aspect of Franklin and continue that good work. My sense of urgency yesterday was driven by my concern that if many students opt out of the ISAT, the results can change the nature of our scores on the State Report Card, not to mislead or confuse you.

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions. I hope that this note helps ease any tension and clears up any confusion from yesterday’s note. We are all in this together and I support any decision you make on testing. I know Franklin families will do the right thing for their children and for the school community.

Margie D. Smagacz, NBCT
Franklin Fine Arts Center
225 West Evergreen
Chicago, IL 60610
(773)534-8510     Fax: (773) 534-8022


E-mail sent today (2/11/14) from the principal of Chicago Public Schools magnet school Franklin Fine Arts to a parent who indicated she would like to opt her child out of the ISAT:

This letter is going to all parents today. Please send this blast to those that are buzzing right now and preparing their letter. This will seriously hurt the school.

You received a letter from Barbara Byrd Bennett, our Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools, regarding testing. First, ISAT is a required test under No Child Left Behind. Opting out of this test is not an option.

In addition, I want to clarify the purpose of the ISAT. It does provide an analysis of how our children are performing in relation to the Common Core Standards. This test will give us a baseline of what to work on with your children in preparation for the new statewide test next year.

Also, this test is linked to our Adequate Yearly Progress. We are a Tier 1 school because our children do well on the test. The more students not taking the test will mean that our status will drop to Tier 2 or 3 and put us on probation.

I understand your frustration. I understand your purpose. I realize that testing is an issue throughout the United States. However we are all held accountable for the performance of our students. Not having your child take the test will seriously jeopardize our school and staff and status.

If you would like to have a meeting regarding this assessment, please feel free to contact me.

Margie D. Smagacz, NBCT


Franklin Fine Arts Center
225 West Evergreen
Chicago, IL 60610
(773)534-8510     Fax: (773) 534-8022

The Mission of Franklin Fine Arts Center is to provide all students, including those with special needs, a foundation for progressing to higher levels in education. This foundation includes a challenging educational program that encourages students to work collaboratively, a focus on individual learning styles, the development of life and social skills, and the promotion of respectful behavior toward peers and adults. We also provide a rich fine arts education as an independent core subject as well as integrated into other curriculum areas.


Ms. Smagacz’s concerns are unfounded:

  • ISAT is not being used to determine school level this year.
  • Opting out of the ISAT is an option according to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
  • The state of Illinois allows for a student who refuses the test not to be counted in a school’s overall percentage of students tested.
  • Common Core tests are still being written – to say that ISAT is important as a way to “practice” for the Common Core tests or to judge how students will do on those tests is a poor excuse for putting children through two weeks of meaningless testing. As MTAS has pointed out, there are many other tests also being given that supposedly align with the Common Core, including the Common Core quarterly benchmark tests and the NWEA MAP.
  • NCLB requires a school to have 100% of its students meeting or exceeding state standards by 2014. No school in Chicago will meet that standard. The top scoring elementary school in Illinois, CPS’s Skinner Classical, was at “only” 97% in 2013.

Please see this More Than a Score ISAT fact sheet for more information.

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.