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Chicago Children Who Opt Out Face Pressure

Guest post by Michelle Gunderson.

My eighth grade son is opting out of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). This is not a decision he or I made lightly.

A month ago he said, "Mom, I see what you stand for, and I want to opt out of the ISAT."

Opting out of testing is not something I pushed. My son is very sensitive and never likes being singled out. The decision was made based on deep-seated family values - our beliefs in the purpose of education and our political analysis of the harm testing creates.  And this decision was made with my son's initiative and my consent.

In Chicago, this type of thoughtful and deliberate conversation happened in thousands of homes over the past month.

We are one of the lucky families. During our required opt out conference with our son's principal my husband gave her a copy of my recent blog on the Ethical Treatment of Children Opting Out. She said that she understood and respected our position and would do her best to honor it.

I wish this had been the case everywhere in our city.

Cassandre Creswell from a grassroots parent organization, More Than a Score, is collecting parent accounts of how children opting out of testing have been treated in our schools across the city. For her, the toughest reports to listen to involve the lies being told to parents and children.

"We hear of administrators who are telling families they are breaking the law, which is a lie. Think about this, they are intimidating people who are undocumented or in difficulty. These parents are very vulnerable," Creswell says.

She adds that there are reports of principals asking children to call home to "opt them back in", children who test given treats in front of those who opted out, a principal claiming to have spoken to parents on the phone when they had not. Her list goes on. In fact synthesizing and comprehending the enormity of these transgressions is taking incredible effort.

In my mind, the most egregious actions are those that attempt to separate children from the wishes, beliefs, and ideology of their parents.

At Pritzker School children were given a survey concerning opting out without parent consent.studentsurvey.jpg

The survey involves several questions where the child is expected to circle an emoticon to describe their feelings about opting out of testing. The most egregious question, though, is number 4: How did you learn about "Opting Out"? The answer choices were: friends, media, parent, teacher, or other.

Pritzker School parent, Rousemary Vega was incensed. "It seems the administration was looking for ways to feel empowered over my children," Vega says. "It confused and humiliated my daughter. It felt like my word to the principal was not enough. And it was a betrayal."

"This is one of the creepier stories, "says Creswell. "It feels like the tactics of a totalitarian regime."

Parents and children deserve the respect my son's principal gave my family. 

On Monday, March 10, the Chicago Teachers Union is holding a day of action. We are asking allies from around the country to call the Chicago Board of Education at 773 553-1600 in support of families boycotting the ISAT and asking that there be no retaliation against teachers who stood up for their students.

What do you think? How should teachers and administrators handle students when they or their parents opt them out of tests? 

Michelle Gunderson is a 27 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction, and is active in the Chicago Teachers Union. 

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