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Teachers at Chicago School Plan Boycott of State Test

Teachers at an elementary school in Chicago have made the nervy move of announcing that they will refuse to administer state-mandated standardized tests that are scheduled to start next week.

Some 40 teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy, according to WBEZ 91.5, held a secret ballot earlier this week on whether to boycott the Illinois Standards of Achievement Tests, an annual set of exams designed to gauge elementary-level students' progress in math, reading, and science in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act. The vote was unanimous against giving the tests.

"We're taking a stand against over-testing. Our students take tests every single month, and we're sick of seeing them stressed out," said Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo (via CBS Chicago). She added that standardized assessments are often not effective measures of students' learning in the classroom.  

The teachers' stand comes amidst a growing outcry against standardized testing in Chicago. A parent group known as More Than a Score has been rallying district families to opt their children out of the of the ISAT. Parents at nearly 40 schools have reportedly done so already, including more than 300 at Saucedo.

The ISAT has become a particularly ripe target because it is being phased out this year (to be replaced, in part, by common-core-aligned assessments being developed by the PARCC consortium). As a result, scores on the test will not count for purposes of student promotion, teacher evaluation, or selective-school admissions.

"We  would  rather  have  our  kids  engaged  in Montessori schoolwork,  artwork,  independent  projects,  or  quiet  reading,  instead  of  'bubbling' on  a  test  that  that  doesn't  count  for  anything,"  a group of opting-out parents at Drummond Elementary School, a public Montessori school in Chicago, wrote in a letter to other parents.

The district, for its part, maintains that the ISAT is anything but meaningless. In a statement released earlier this week, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that the tests will "help teachers tailor instructional planning for the following year" and better prepare students and teachers for the upcoming common assessments. She also noted that the ISAT is required by the state and that the district "expects all CPS employees to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure we are in compliance with the law."

A representative of the Chicago Teachers Union, which has itself been heavily involved in the testing protests, said the union would not only staunchly defend the Saucedo teachers against any possible disciplinary actions but is also hoping that teachers at other schools will be inspired to join the boycott.

Either way, the Saucedo teachers seem to be prepared to stand their ground. "We are not afraid. We're standing strong for our kids and what is right," Chambers said (this time via the Chicago Sun Times). "This is one step towards reclaiming humanity and the joy of learning and education."

If carried through, the Saucedo teachers' move would be a rare, possibly unprecedented, instance of teachers refusing to give a state-mandated test. Last year, a group of high school teachers in Seattle made headlines by boycotting a district-required benchmarking assessment. The teachers' hold-out ultimately led the Seattle district to create a revised "plan of action" on the test that gave high schools the right to opt out of giving it under certain circumstances.

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