Posts Tagged ‘testing’

If life is a test, the Trib flunks

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Today’s Chicago Tribune editorial claims their “philosophy” is that “Life is a test.”

Wow. That explains a lot about the Tribune, doesn’t it?

We have a different take on life, and so do a lot of others. For example:

  • Life is one grand sweet song, so start the music. Ronald Reagan
  • Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others. Helen Keller
  • Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use. Charles Schultz
  • Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it. Danny Kaye
  • Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, then life is like a broken winged bird that cannot fly. Langston Hughes
  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • The purpose of life is to find out “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” George Harrison

Besides, most of the Trib’s readers think standardized tests are “bogus.” If you haven’t voted in this Tribune poll yet, do it now!


Test officials getting testier about opting out

Friday, February 28th, 2014

iceISATEfforts by school testing folks to stop the opt out steamroller are getting desperate. Now they are threatening everything from teacher firings to school closure. It’s almost as if they are afraid that their test-based house of cards is about to collapse…

Here’s an e-mail sent to More Than a Score’s Julie Fain by Didi Schwartz, head of assessment at CPS, and our responses (written by Cassie Creswell and added in bold below).

From: “Swartz, Claudinette” <>
Date: February 27, 2014 at 11:46:13 AM CST
To: Julie Fain <>
Subject: ISAT opt out

Hi Julie,
I wanted to reach out on the opt out issue because I’m concerned that there are repercussions from the State that teachers and parents may not be aware of.  We’ve just sent something to principals and I want to make sure you guys are clear too.

What we’ve heard from ISBE is that because ISAT is required by both federal (NCLB) and state law (IL School Code), it’s possible that schools could lose federal funding with low testing percentages.  We’re still trying to nail down with ISBE exactly how this will be determined, but this is something that would be reviewed by the federal Dept. of Ed.

There is no evidence that the federal government will limit Title I funding due to testing opt outs. If ISBE or US Ed has evidence of this ever happening anywhere or under consideration, please have them produce it. We have reviewed the US Code and the CFR and found no references to automatic funding cuts for failure to make AYP.  Below 95% participation averaged over three years would trigger an AYP failure, but the district has not made AYP since at least 2005, and only 64 CPS schools made AYP last year.  If there were any cuts, they happened already.

In addition, there are possible repercussions for teachers from ISBE, again since this is a required test.  Depending on the circumstance, teacher actions could be reviewed by the State Certification Board with potential impact on their licensing.  There would of course also be CPS-specific consequences since test administration and a maintaining secure testing environment are considered basic job functions of CPS employees.

CTU is fully prepared to defend teachers who refuse to administer this test.  Teachers who have chosen not to administer the test understand that there may be repercussions for their jobs.  Please provide a citation for the impact of test boycotts on licensure.

Finally, the state has also indicated that this could trigger a review of school recognition status (i.e. accreditation).

If past failure to make AYP did not already trigger this, why would presently missing it, as nearly  all schools will do with 100% meets and exceeds required, trigger heretofore unknown sanctions. 

And as for the messaging around this, I think there are also a few things that need to be cleared up.

Time spent testing: I think it’s misleading to say that ISAT takes up 2 weeks of instructional time.  The total test time is 3 hours each for reading and math and 2 for science (4 an 7 only).  You can find this in the test manual here and here, on page 6.  There is a 2 week window to allow maximum flexibility in scheduling.  Students who are absent typically take make-up tests in the 2nd week, but this doesn’t disrupt instruction of other students as it is done in another setting.  The 6 or 8 hours on the test is less than 1% of a student’s time spent in school.

Disruption is far more than the 6-8 hours of testing. Even students not in 3-8th grade have disrupted schedules during the testing window; most specials are cancelled etc.  At least one school is being dismissed early (before 12) for the three days of testing.  Special ed students can take many more than 6-8 hours to test, and their teachers are lost to administering the test for weeks.  This doesn’t even begin to cover the hours and dollars devoted to ISAT prep time.

CPS does not pay for ISAT.  I saw a flyer that quoted us as spending 3.5 million on it.  I have no idea where this came from…this is a state exam.

This claim is not coming from us; nonetheless, the ISAT will cost the state $18M; $3.5M of that is for the test within CPS.

Although it isn’t used for accountability or promotion/selective enrollment, it isn’t a complete waste of time.  It is the only measure we have this year aligned to the full depth and breadth of the Common Core and the only uniform measure across the state.  While NWEA is aligned to the CCSS in terms of strand alignment, text and item complexity, it is of course only available in multiple choice.  ISAT also includes extended response items aligned to the CCSS.

 The ISAT will still be primarily multiple choice; the number of extended responses items is the same as prior years. The PARCC blueprints and test specifications call for more complex multiple choice  and more extended response items.  The newly required CCQB performances tasks are giving students plenty of practice in ELA and math in a non-multiple choice format. Furthermore, the equating procedures for last year’s ISAT to this year’s ISAT are unclear. If the CC switch is meaningful, the underlying construct of the test has changed; you cannot compare last year’s scores to this year’s without heavy equating. At best, reading will have 10 anchoring items. Math is less clear but will have to  be worse.  

Because Illinois requires ISAT, schools are expected to present all students with the test.  Students can refuse to test, but must remain quiet and not disrupt testing for other students.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent a letter to parents stating that they have the right to opt their children out of all tests.  We are instructing parents to tell schools they are refusing on behalf of their legally minor children and that the school should code their student as having refused the test.  It is unethical to pressure children, some as young as eight years old, to participate in activities against their parent/guardian’s wishes.

I definitely understand the frustration with time spent on assessment generally and unhealthy testing practices (bubble kids strategy, narrowly focusing on certain skills…etc).  Believe me, we are working to change this.  We have sent out messages and talked with principals and Chiefs about what it means to prepare students to do well on assessments that are aligned to the Common Core.  While you guys may be hearing about the bad practices, there are also plenty of principals and teachers that are getting the message about how high quality daily tasks that truly ask kids to think, write, defend their choices…etc are the key.

Most of us are not just hearing about bad practices; our children and, in some cases, students are in Chicago Public Schools experiencing the effects of the CPS testing policy every day.

This is a process that will certainly take time, but we’re committed to it.

We encourage you to continue to work to change the fundamental values in this district that continue to prioritize test scores above education and children.

At the same time, I hope that MTAS and the other groups you guys work with can deliver a message that fully informs parents of the facts about ISAT (and other tests) and any potential repercussions.

We encourage CPS administration to do the same.

As you know, I’m always more than willing to talk to you guys and help clear things up.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Didi Swartz
Director of Assessment | Office of Accountability
Chicago Public Schools

PSAT for 2-4-14: Sign our petition to scrap the ISAT!

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

psat_logoMore Than a Score’s petition to scrap the ISAT has been up only a couple of days and already has over 750 signatures. Let’s hit the 1000 mark today!

And don’t forget the ISAT forum this Thursday, Feb. 6, at 6:30 at Haas Park. Speakers will include Cassie Creswell from More Than a Score, Greg Michie, CPS teacher and author, a student member of VOYCE, and CPS teacher Monique Redeaux-Smith. We’ll have opt out and other resources to share, including MTAS’s alternative proposal for replacing high-stakes testing with common-sense use of report cards. Here’s a flyer to download.

Here’s what the petition says:

We parents, students, and educators are concerned that the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) will be administered again this March.  The ISAT is not used in Chicago for student promotion, or for school performance, or for selective enrollment admission, nor is it used for teacher evaluation purposes.

By forcing our children to undergo this meaningless test, they will lose hours of valuable classroom instruction time, disrupting as many as ten school days.  CPS plans to force this test on students again at the same time that they are also required to take NWEA MAP tests, new Interim Benchmark Tests, REACH Performance Tasks, ACCESS tests, NAEP tests, pilot Common Core tests and more.

Over-testing of students has come with real costs to their education. Students need fewer tests and more access to arts, language and a broad, rich curriculum. Students need meaningful and educationally appropriate assessments, not more standardized tests.  We call on Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education not to give the ISAT test this year.

CPS and the State of Illinois plan to phase out ISAT and introduce a new test next year. CPS has no purpose for administering the ISAT beyond meeting a mandate to administer it. The State and Chicago Boards of Education should move to waive this wasteful test. All parents and students should be explicitly informed of their right to refuse standardized testing.  Students and families who choose to exercise the right to opt out should be treated fairly and respectfully.

For more information visit

NYC Council passes anti-testing resolution

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

pizzaNot convinced about the pizza, but check this out:

Press Contact: Jane Hirschmann, 917 679 8343


The New York City Council passed today Resolution 1394.  This is historic because it is the first time that a legislative body has sent a clear directive to the DOE, NYSED and Governor that high stakes standardized tests must be replaced by multiple measures.  As heard in testimony endorsing the Resolution, “Learning is complex, assessment should be too. A one-size fits all approach to learning and testing fails children, teachers and families.  And, as we have seen, the so-called testing reform approach used by Bloomberg/Klein for the last 12 years resulted in many negative unintended consequences and failed to deliver quality education.

Resolution 1394 was modeled on a national piece of legislation that has been endorsed by many Boards of Education across the country, and more than 500 organizations. In Texas alone more than 80% of the school boards endorsed a similar position. “The New York City resolution is an important step in the growing, grassroots-powered national movement seeking to replace testing overkill with better, educationally sound forms of assessment. Across the U.S. parents, students, teachers, community leaders and, increasingly, local elected officials, are saying ‘Enough is enough!’ to politically mandated standardized exam misuse and overuse, said Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest)

“Our New York City electeds have taken the lead by passing Resolution 1394, ” said Evelyn Cruz of Time Out >From Testing. “The City Council is sending a loud and clear message that we have had enough of this testing mania which drives curriculum. When these tests have such high stakes attached to them —graduation, promotion, school grade, teacher evaluations, school closings and even principal bonuses—there is no question that teachers will teach to the test. This is not a 21st Century education. We want more for our children.”

“All of us think our children should be challenged by difficult tasks in school and that the performance of teachers in the classroom should be judged by the highest standards, but there is no scientific validity whatsoever to the use of high stakes tests as the primary instrument for evaluating children and teachers. We cannot kid ourselves that just because high-stakes testing has become predominant in our schools, it is moral or even rational,” said Jeff Nichols of Change the Stakes.

” This action by the City Council is of central importance to all those who care about public education. Since NYC has been seen as the leader of the so called “reform” movement, the fact that our City Council took action will be regarded nationally as a critical moment—turning around a 12 year failed experiment, said Dani Gonzalez, Co-chair of Time Out From Testing.

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.


120 children’s book authors, illustrators tell President there’s too much testing

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

BlumePress release from FairTest

for further information:

Dr. Monty Neill (617) 477-9792
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773

for immediate release –Tuesday, October 22, 2013




More than 120 leading authors and illustrators of books for children, including several national award winners, are calling on President Obama to “change the way we assess learning so that schools nurture creativity, exploration, and a love of literature.”

Their letter delivered to the White House today stated, “Our public schools spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations.”

“All children must have the freedom to grow, to evolve, to develop,” explained acclaimed poet Maya Angelou, who spoke at President Obama’s inauguration. “We parents, authors, illustrators are standing up for our children. We desperately need you and your administration to stand with us.” The authors’ and illustrators’ letter continued, “We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your administration’s own initiatives, on children’s love of reading and literature. Recent policy changes by your Administration have not lowered the stakes. On the contrary, requirements to evaluate teachers on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.”

Signers of a “Public Letter on Standardized Testing from Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Youth” include such other notables as Alma Flor Ada, Judy Blume, Jules Feiffer, and Donald Crews, as well as National Book Award winners Kathryn Erskine and Phillip Hoose.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) coordinated signature gathering for the letter. The assessment reform organization’s executive director, Dr. Monty Neill, explained, “The authors and illustrators recognize the damage done to young children by testing overkill. The new Common Core assessments will not reverse the damage. In fact, they will mandate more standardized exams in more grades. It is time for an indefinite moratorium on high-stakes exams.”

The letter to President Obama with a complete signers’ list of children’s authors and illustrators is online at:

– A fact sheet on Common Core assessments is at:

PURE response to proposed changes in CPS promotion policy

Monday, October 21st, 2013

CPS logoWe expect that the Chicago Board of Education will rubber-stamp a “new” promotion policy on Wednesday that will change none of the high-stakes testing and retention effects of the old policy.

PURE is presenting the following critique of the proposed policy at an LSC Advisory Board meeting this afternoon, along with what we think is a better alternative.

Response to proposed CPS 2013-14 Promotion Policy

by Julie Woestehoff for Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) October 20, 2013


In 1999, PURE filed a discrimination complaint with the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the existing Chicago Public Schools Student Promotion Policy charging that the Policy had a disparate, damaging impact on African-American students. At the time, CPS used single scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to make promotion decisions. After a year of federal investigation and complaint resolution, CPS changed the Policy to include consideration of grades and parental requests for reviews.

PURE filed a second complaint in 2010 based on the Policy’s continued use of single test scores as the predominant promotion barrier. This complaint is under investigation and has not yet been resolved.

Problems with proposed Policy

PURE believes that the proposed Policy continues to result in too many retentions and to misuse standardized test scores in a way that damages children and their education. The proposed changes to the current Policy are minimal and amount to little more than a swap of one high-stakes nationally-normed standardized test for another. PURE’s major criticisms of the policy are as follows.

  • Focus on failed, harmful retention strategy

More than 40 years of educational research has found that flunking students is risky, can have harmful effects, and leads to higher dropout rates. Research in Chicago confirms the policy’s failure and the damage it causes. The conclusion of the Consortium on Chicago School Research in its landmark study, Ending Social Promotion, could not be clearer:

Did retaining these low-achieving students help? The answer to this question is decidedly no. In the third grade, there is no evidence that retention led to greater achievement growth two years after the promotional gate, and in the sixth grade, we find significant evidence that retention was associated with lower achievement growth(emphasis added).

The Consortium also found that the CPS promotion policy has made the dropout rate worse.

  • Misuse of nationally-normed standardized test

Since the Policy was first implemented in 1996, it has been based on high-stakes use of test scores on a series of standardized tests: the Iowa test, IGAP, ISAT, and SAT 10. The new proposal substitutes the NWEA and CPS indicates that the NWEA will ultimately be replaced by PARCC tests.

But professional opinion about the way CPS uses these tests has not changed. Assessment professionals are clear that single test scores are not reliable or adequate measures of student progress and should not be used for high-stakes decisions. The tests were not designed for that purpose and should not be used that way.

For example, the publisher of the SAT10, used in the current Policy, says that for student promotion decisions, test scores “should be just one of the many factors considered and probably should receive less weight than factors such as teacher observation, day-to-day classroom performance, maturity level, and attitude.

  • Multiple barriers, not multiple measures

Despite CPS’s claims that the Policy uses multiple measures, each measure acts instead as a single deciding factor which by itself can be used to retain the student. In other words, CPS students must meet test cut scores and grade standards in order to be promoted without attending summer school. Many students who do not meet the cut score in June must retake the test and receive an acceptable score in August in order to be promoted – a kind of educational “double jeopardy.”

  • Inadequate summer school and follow-up support

The “new and improved” summer school program CPS proposes sounds a lot like hours and hours of computer test prep: “weekly acceleration/intervention sessions as part of the full school day; access to instructional tool that provides focused lessons based on individual needs,” which CPS calls “personalization” (slide 14 of CPS PowerPoint Presentation)

But personalization is not achieved by plopping a student in front of a computer program that “senses” his/her level, like a video game. Struggling students need extra adult attention, not less, and they need the professional approach that only a trained, experienced teacher can provide. An “instructional tool” cannot replace a teacher.

  • Inadequate notice to parents and the community

Despite PURE’s outstanding OCR complaint against the Policy, and our longstanding documented interest in the Policy, we were never notified about nor invited to any of the focus groups.

Attendees at the focus groups were not given advance copies of the proposal to review nor paper copies to view at the meetings or take home to share. In any case, notice came too late for meaningful review prior to Oct. 24th Board action.

It’s easy to infer that CPS has no intention of incorporating stakeholder concerns or suggestions into the amended Policy.

What’s best for children

CPS claims that it “bases every decision on what is best for children” (slide 5). However, this statement is contradicted in the first three slides, which clearly indicate that the changes in the Policy are driven by 1) changes in test availability and 2) an administrative rule that changes in the Policy must be voted on before November report card pick up day.

There are many better ways of evaluating students and assuring that they are progressing. CPS’s Policy is data-driven, not child-driven. It begins and ends with one high-stakes standardized test. Please see PURE’s alternative proposal for a more comprehensive student-centered approach.


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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.