Posts Tagged ‘standardized testing’

Educators speak out against testing

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Pencil - RedPerhaps Blaine principal Troy LaRiviere’s May 3 letter to the Chicago Sun-Times  emboldened other educators to speak out.

For example, the former head of assessment at CPS, Carole Perlman, wrote this letter to the Chicago Tribune criticizing the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers. “Though superficially appealing, using test scores to evaluate teachers will create more problems than it will solve. Excellent teachers will be erroneously labeled as incompetent, while poor teachers may get a pass. Students will not benefit.”

And just a few days ago, I received this wonderful e-mail from former teacher Judy Tomera, who agreed that I could share her comments:

Dear Julie Woestehoff,                                May 26, 2014

I’m writing to tell you how much I enjoyed you presence on Dick Kay’s show a Saturday or two ago and am looking forward to your next appearance.  I think what you had to say about schools and testing, in particular, is spot on.  It is my opinion after spending about 40 years teaching elementary school (K – 5th grade in rural, urban, and suburban schools) that standardized testing is a waste of time and resources for many reasons, one of which is that they do not test what you want to know about a child.  Many of the questions are ridiculous, designed to lead children astray so the standard bell curve can be preserved.  And, as you well know, the tests are not directly linked to curriculum so they are not a valid indicator of what children have learned in school.

For example:

In first grade in the 80s children were asked to identify which animal lays eggs and fill in the circle below it. (California Achievement Test) The pictures were of an elephant, bunny, snake, and horse.  Enough 6 and 7 years olds were drawn to the bunny (think April and Easter when most testing is done) to elicit the required number of wrong answers to maintain the bell curve.

In third grade in the 2000s on a reading test 3rd graders were asked to find the word in the row that has the same vowel sounds as the first word.  The first word was BEAR and the other words in the list were BEEN, EARS,  HAIR, and HERE.  Many children marked EARS because it had the same vowels, not vowel sounds. That item was also included on purpose to draw children to a wrong answer. I doubt if the children that missed that item would have read the following sentence incorrectly:  The bear had brown ears. Semantics and syntax play an important part in reading correctly. What child who can read would read the sentence as The bear had brown airs, which is the correct response to the question if students had indeed understood the question correctly.

Other examples of deliberate insertion of misleading questions can be identified in most standardized tests. In order to maintain the bell curve, half of the test takers must score less than the 50th percentile in the control groups and half over. Therefore when developing the test items some questions must be more difficult (tricky) or in some cases easier to maintain the bell curve in score distribution of the sample groups.  Questions of recall test memory, not skill. Questions not linked to curriculum are not  useful.  Yes, you are right, testing is a mean trick to play on children.

If you ask most adults, they do not have fond memories of the week of achievement testing. Now in most states it isn’t just in the spring. More is better. It is like getting on the scale every day to see if you have lost weight. It has nothing whatever to do with that goal. Eating less and exercising are better ways of achieving the goal. Time in the classroom providing enriched learning environments and experiences are far better at achieving best student outcomes.

And if you want to know how a child reads, listen to him or her. Fluency, expression, even a few questions of inference or recall are good. And, by the way, it is okay to look back. What good reader doesn’t from time to time. Otherwise, here again, you are just testing memory.

Another practice during testing time is to read aloud test items in the math section to the children who are struggling readers. The logic is that you are not testing math skills if the student is required to comprehend the question by reading it themselves as reading skills are involved.  However, what I found in my classes is that my weaker readers scored higher on the math test than many of the children who in their daily lives demonstrated greater understanding of math concepts. Why not read the math questions to all the children. Oral inflection is a big aid to understanding the written word so students who were read the questions had a big advantage over those who didn’t. You know, level the playing field.

Before I moved to Chicagoland, where I taught in a private school as the public schools could hire two beginning teachers rather than one experienced one like me (but that s another issue), I taught in a public school in Oregon that was rated number 1 in the state.  We would hold workshops two or three times a year to share our program (multiage classrooms) and teaching strategies with teachers and districts throughout the state who would send staff to our school to spend the day with us and our children.  Soon after I moved to NW Indiana, the Oregon State Department of Education instituted standardized testing as means to evaluate effectiveness of schools. How much you improved from year to year was the basis for high evaluation. The more you improved from the previous year, the higher your rank. So my school went from being the best  school in the state to in the middle somewhere simply because our scores, still very high, were not significantly higher than the very high scores from the year before. Schools that had previously scored lower and struggling schools that gained a few points on the outcomes of the test results indeed showed more improvement, though their scores were not in the high range and they got the higher ratings and headlines in the newspaper.  And, as we all know, what is in the newspaper counts.  It is politics.  I felt for the staff, students and parents of my Oregon school for doing an excellent job and not being recognized for that.

Testing is a mirage.  An expensive one.  There are far better ways of showing individual student progress and many schools are using them to communicate with parents.  When parents understand the issues and can see the authentic growth in their children they are pleased.  When they can’t, they and teachers are at least pointed in the direction that encourages improvement.  Test scores, in themselves do not do that.  They are misleading and dishonest and suck the enthusiasm and confidence out of learners.

Thank you for being so articulate in highlighting one of the many problems schools face and leading the way to improvement.  I am in your parade.

PSAT for 3-11-14: Keep up the ISAT pressure!

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014



The ice and snow are not letting up in Chicago and neither is the ICE the ISAT campaign!

Please read and share this letter to the editor in today’s Tribune, which I submitted on behalf of More Than a Score.

Then sign this petition to support the teachers who are teaching instead of testing this week. It has already received over 2300 signatures!

Parents support Saucedo and Drummond teachers’ test boycott

Friday, February 28th, 2014

BNtestprepcropParents United for Responsible Education and the parent group More Than a Score strongly support the teachers at Chicago’s Saucedo, Drummond,  and any other Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Illinois teachers who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test to their students beginning on Monday, March 3.

The hundreds of parents represented by PURE and MTAS oppose the misuse and overuse of standardized tests. We believe that Chicago schools are administering far too many tests and wasting too much precious learning time on testing and test preparation. Some tests are given just to predict how students will do on future tests. Others are unfairly and improperly used to make life-changing decisions about children, which even test makers say is wrong.

Parents are increasingly fed up with excessive testing and test prep which we believe has replaced many of the important aspects of education including the arts, science, history, civics, and spoken communication. This is why hundreds of parents at scores of Chicago schools are opting their children out of the ISAT this year. This test is being phased out this year and has no particular purpose. Unfortunately, CPS officials have responded to parents’ concerns with threats and misinformation. They claim that schools may be lose federal funds or even their accreditation if students don’t take the test.

And for teachers like those at Saucedo, who support the parents, who want to teach and not incessantly test, and who have announced their intention not to administer the ISAT this year, the attempts at intimidation are worse: CPS has threatened to fire them and revoke their teaching licenses.

We stand in solidarity with these courageous teachers who are standing up for our children and their education.

Nationwide, a growing number of parents and teachers are rising up and saying “Enough!” Chicago is emerging as a national leader in this healthy movement away from excessive testing and towards a richer, more meaningful learning experience for our children.

PURE and MTAS ask CPS to respect the decisions of parents to protect our children from test misuse by opting them out, and to honor the teachers who are refusing to give the tests as a matter of conscience and from a sincere desire to provide children with a real education, not just more test prep.

Opt out threats continue – UPDATED

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

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.

PSAT for 1-28-14: Time to ICE the ISAT?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014


Please plan to attend this important forum next week, and share the Facebook event and flyer with your networks!

 More Than a Score presents a free public forum

What's Up with Testing in CPS?

Is NWEA the new ISAT?

More testing, less testing?

What does it all mean for opting out?

When: Thursday, February 6, 2014 6:30 to 8 pm

Where: Haas Park (2402 N. Washtenaw at Fullerton – ample free street parking)

We'll talk about:

  • the many testing changes in CPS this year,

  • how these changes may affect opting out and other testing resistance activities, and

  • better ways to assess student progress.

For more information please go to

or e-mail us at


Save the Date: Standardized the Movie showing 1/30 in Chicago

Thursday, January 9th, 2014


PSAT for 12-10-13: Send us your test schedules

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

psat_logoMore Than a Score is meeting with CPS testing officials later this week. Among the items on our agenda is a discussion of the actual number of tests given in CPS schools this year. You may remember that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced at the end of last year that the district was cutting back “15 of the 25” district mandated standardized tests.

From what we’re hearing, though, the reality is not matching up with the claims.

For one thing, CPS has added a number of new tests – e.g. benchmark tests associated with the Common Core and additional REACH teacher evaluation tests.

This excellent post by More Than a Score’s Cassie Cresswell also points out that the cutbacks in many primary tests never happened. She writes,

Second graders will actually take more exams at many schools this year, rather than fewer. In addition to the K-2 literacy and numeracy assessments, the NWEA MAP test will be given to 2nd graders in the spring, and possibly in the winter. And so, many second graders will be taking literacy/English Language Arts (ELA) exams 13 times this year, along with 10 numeracy/math exams, and an undetermined number of REACH exams in other subjects (art, music, etc.).

Here’s an example of a school testing schedule showing a full page of tests for each quarter.

We are collecting school testing schedules in order to find out what is really happening, and to help us plan our work in the coming months. Teachers, parents and students, if you have a version of your school’s testing schedule that you can e-mail (electronic, scan, etc.) please send it to Otherwise, you can mail it to PURE c/o Siegel and Associates, 11 E Adams Street, Suite 1401, Chicago IL 60603.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
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.