LINCOLN SQUARE — Just weeks into the 2012-13 school year, kindergartners at Waters Elementary School took part in one of many academic firsts — their first standardized test.
"My daughter came home and said, 'I'm not good at kindergarten,' " recalled Claire Wapole. "At 5 years old, my daughter is saying, 'I don't want to go to school.' "
That experience prompted Wapole to stand outside Waters on a frigid February morning as part of a citywide effort to collect signatures for a petition calling on Chicago Public Schools to dial down the number of tests students are subjected to annually.
According to More Than a Score, the organization behind the petition, K-2 students in CPS can take as many as 10 mandated tests per year.
"The emphasis on testing and pressure to raise scores is cutting into the core values of what school should be about — love of learning, critical thinking, quality instruction," said Wendy Katten, leader of Raise Your Hand.
Raise Your Hand, a grassroots coalition of parents and concerned citizens who advocate for quality public education in Chicago, is a partner in More Than a Score.
"We hope that CPS amends the testing schedule for next year so that our kids can actually focus on learning and not just the narrow skill of taking a test," Katten said.
CPS responded with a statement via email:
"These tools are critical not only for measuring student growth, but to help teachers and principals identify the unique academic needs of students to help them be successful in the classroom. CEO [Barbara] Byrd-Bennett has asked her new Chief of Accountability [John Barker] to review all existing assessments in our system so she may analyze their use and purpose to ensure that each one adds value to our children's learning."
The Chicago petition drive had volunteers stationed at more than 30 schools across the city on Wednesday. Additional parents have signed on to canvas a greater number of schools as the drive continues, Katten said.
"We plan to present the petitions to the Board and Barbara Byrd-Bennett at a board meeting this spring," she said.
The petition calls for the Board of Education and CPS to completely eliminate standardized testing for children through second grade and to greatly reduce it thereafter. Additionally, More Than a Score is calling for full disclosure of the cost, schedule, nature and purpose of all standardized tests.
Marsha Dillingham, parent of an 11-year-old at Waters, 4540 N. Campbell Ave., was an eager signatory.
Having moved to Chicago from North Carolina a year and half ago, she noted, "It seems like they're always taking a test here."
Her biggest complaint: "I don't feel like the test shows all the picture of what kids know or don't know."
The equating of education with "pass the test" spurred Jeff Skrentny, who has a son at Waters, to join the petition.
"It's all testing all the time," he said. "How do you test for ecology? How do you test for creativity? How do you test for music?"
A decreased emphasis on testing would enable teachers to spark imagination and cover topics, like the Great Chicago Fire, for the sake of learning, not testing, said Wapole.
"All I ever wanted [for my kids] from kindergarten through second grade was Mary Poppins," she said. "Those early years are the most important years to learn school is fun."