Letter to the Editor(s) of the Kankakee Daily Journal

I am very disappointed in the recent Editorial from the Kankakee Daily Journal writers who have completely misrepresented the facts about the Chicago Teachers Union’s support of the parent’s testing boycott.  How far has journalistic research fallen?

Born and raised in Kankakee, I now teach social studies in a large Chicago Public School on the southwest side.  I am also an elected and active delegate to the Chicago Teachers Union.  I am directly involved in the testing Opt-Out boycott, which to clarify on behalf of the Journal, does not state that parents should “keep their children home” as the Journal claimed, but rather, send their children to school on ISAT Testing Day with an Opt-Out letter and books to read silently while testing are administered.

Last year, a few of my students opted-out of the second day of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (called Work-Keys) and you know what happened?  Nothing. The Work-Keys test only gauges certain non-academic work-place tasks, like reading a manual and following a set of instructions (like, to build a “thing” the student won’t actually get to build in real life because they’re just taking a test). Neither CPS, the state of Illinois, nor potential colleges are holding anything against those students, in fact I know of at least one of them who wrote about his experience opting-out as “civic engagement” for a college entrance essay.

There is very little that standardized testing can tell us in the way that it is being used today.  I draw a very clear distinction from the kind of standardized testing that I was doing in high school, little more than a decade ago.  The newest assessments do not reflect content being taught, and are not created, or scored by actual educators.  

In nice round numbers, I am mandated by CPS administration to dedicate more than one month of my students’ classroom time to testing and test prep, of which, only three hours of that is mandated for graduation in the Illinois.  But that’s for only my class; my students have seven others they visit each day.  As multiple news local outlets have reported, even kindergarteners in CPS elementary schools are spending a third of their year -60 days- on testing.  Yes, Kindergarten.  

In the Civil Rights era standardized tests were created to assure equitable distribution of resources in schools, but that doesn’t account for the upsurge in testing today. What is different now is the that we have two-fisted “carrot-or-stick” legislation in the  No Child Left Behind Act – which labels schools who don’t make the grade “failing”, and the follow-up piece Race to the Top which “leases” those public schools -and all our tax dollars that go with it- to the highest bidder, namely charter school operators who are not beholden to public school funding transparency laws.  With those groups, we never know how much of our money they are spending on classrooms or slick advertising, nor why they keep kicking out students with special needs because they claim those public school laws do not apply to them.  However we do know that charter operators suspend students at higher rates right before times of standardized testing, which has the effect of increasing their average test scores, making the charter schools look much better on paper than their public school counterparts.  I should know, I taught at a charter school.

We know that as a whole, standardized testing does not show us what students know, but rather is a closer predictor for what zip-code they live in, and at best they can tell us how well any given student may do in only their first year of college.  The newest brand of tests coming to Illinois next year, the Common Core-aligned MAP and PARCC -the whole reason we’re phasing out ISAT anyway, do not test content, only math and reading skills, and only on a computer screen.  So much for Columbus, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Michelangelo, Daily Journal Editors.

We also know that with the high-stakes attached to the tests, principals are increasingly under pressure, and even willing to cut programming especially in the arts, vocational technology, and electives such as my American Law class (one of the more popular courses we used to offer) to make room for a test-prep courses.  Perhaps if Kankakee teachers -I used to be one of them, too- aren’t sending Students of the Month for “top-speller” it’s because Spelling-Bees have been all but eliminated with everything else we used to love about school.

The bright note in all of this is that there are only three tests that are mandated by state law to graduate in IL: the first day of the PSAE, a beginning-of-the-year (BOY) exam, and an end-of-the-year (EOY) exam.  Everything else is added on by local districts and can be opted-out of, if parents so choose.   We need parents across IL to choose to opt their children out of irrelevant, valueless, and ultimately harmful tests.

We know that what happens in IL, happens first in Chicago.  So while the Daily Journal reporting on a Chicago issue could have shown tremendous foresight for what’s coming to all our schools across IL,  I do hope in the future they get their opinions from actual people who live it everyday.


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