A Chicago testing hornet’s nest. Boycott the ISAT.

boycott the ISAT

Graphic: Fred Klonsky

When CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued her testing letter to parents and teachers last week, it opened a hornet’s nest.

In her usual threatening, blundering way, she told parents:

This year’s ISAT will be more aligned to the Common Core. Some claim that this test will not count for anything as the state moves toward PARCC, however, I believe it is still an important exam as it is an additional opportunity to understand the increased expectations of a Common Core-aligned test.  In addition, ISAT – like PSAE for high schools – is still a measure used to determine AYP.

NWEA MAP is also an important measure of student knowledge aligned to the Common Core.  Already a part of the Promotion Policy, teacher evaluation, principal evaluation, and the new School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP), NWEA MAP will also be used this year as the screening test for selective enrollment eligibility.

Students must score at or above the 24th percentile on NWEA MAP to qualify to take the selective enrollment exam.  I know that questions regarding opting out of NWEA MAP have been raised, so let me be clear: CPS students without an NWEA MAP score will not be eligible for selective enrollment or promotion in grades 3, 6, and 8. In addition, SQRP ratings will suffer for test participation rates of less than 95%.

Parents requesting to have their children opt out of the NWEA MAP must first have a conversation with the principal to discuss the consequences to their children. If after this conversation they still wish to opt out, they must make their request in writing.  Parents should be informed that there will be no alternate instruction given during the assessment and that children who are not being assessed will be required to engage in a silent, self-guided activity while their peers are being tested.

This is Chicago. We have a huge active movement among CPS parents. Threatening our children with having them sit-and-stare if they chose opting-out of pointless testing just didn’t go over well.

In addition to teachers and parents receiving the BBB threat in hard-copy form, this blog alone registered 30,000 unique hits to it over a three day period.

The inclusion and justification for using the ISAT is causing particular anger.

Almost immediately a petition went online.

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. 

And then yesterday the Chicago Teachers Union weighed in.

CTU Supports Parent Boycott of Low-Stakes ISAT


Illinois State Achievement Test is costly, obsolete and steals learning time

CHICAGO—In advance of the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) to be issued to Chicago Public School students March 3-14, 2014, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) today announced support for parents choosing to opt their children out of testing and renewed a call for the Chicago Board of Education to cease administration of the ISAT.

The ‘low stakes’ test is administered over the course of eight days in all elementary schools. Formerly used to help qualify 7th grade students for selective enrollment high schools. The district recently issued a memorandum to teachers stressing the value of “rigorous, high-quality assessments,” in measuring student progress. The ISAT, however, is not aligned to any CPS curriculum, and in Chicago, it is no longer used to measure student progress, school performance, promotion, or for any other purpose.

“The ISAT is an obsolete test—it has no use to educators or administrators and the state is junking it next year,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “It is of no use in selective enrollment, and serves no purpose other than to give students another standardized test.”

Illinois paid over $18 million this year to Pearson Corporation for the ISAT. The portion attributed to CPS is roughly $3.4 million, impacting over 171,000 students. The total cost of administering the tests are the untold hours of preparation for the exam, and the loss of valuable instructional hours that could be spent on real learning.

For the last decade, since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the ISAT test has been the primary lever used by CPS for its destructive, destabilizing policies of closures and turnarounds. System-wide, the ISAT has infected the vigor and breadth of curriculum as teachers and students became stymied by the requirements of a narrow test-based approach to learning. NCLB has now been panned as a broad failure, but with the transition into more new tests, CPS threatens to double-down on the failed policy of standardized-test based accountability.

The CTU believes that the letter teachers recently received was recognition of the fear that parents will opt out of the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP) assessment, despite threats that students without MAP scores will not be eligible for selective enrollment, there will be no alternate instruction given during the days of testing and children who are not participating in the assessment will be left to fend for themselves in “self-guided activity.” The CPS letter to parents also created an additional hurdle for parents, who oppose the excessive class time devoted to test prep and test administration, to opt their children out of testing.

Last year, the CTU joined teachers, students, parents and education advocates nationwide standing in solidarity with Garfield High School in Seattle and all Seattle public schools refusing to administer the MAP.

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.

One Reply to “A Chicago testing hornet’s nest. Boycott the ISAT.”

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