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Murray Council Pushes for Fewer Standardized Tests, More Teaching Time

By Sam Cholke | February 25, 2014 9:49am
 Murray Language Academy's Local School Council on Wednesday passed a measure urging lawmakers to reduce the testing requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.
Murray Language Academy's Local School Council on Wednesday passed a measure urging lawmakers to reduce the testing requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The Murray Language Academy Local School Council voted last week to take a stance against the number of standardized tests at the school.

“The amount and nature of high-stakes testing is out of proportion and inappropriate,” said Michael Scott, the community representative on the Murray LSC.

The vote came as education activists  across the city lobbied parents to opt out of assessments like the Illinois State Standard Achievement Test and encouraged local school councils to push back against standardized tests.

The Murray LSC on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure urging lawmakers to reduce the testing requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act and to cut its ties to school funding.

Principal Greg Mason abstained from the vote, and one teacher representative was absent.

Scott said the LSC was not against testing, but was pushing for fewer state-mandated tests and more time for instruction.

“When I was a kid, we took the Iowa Test, and it took two days,” said Scott, who attended Murray. “Conservatively, my kids are taking tests for weeks.”

Chicago Public Schools students in third- through eighth-grade now take 13 or more standardized tests each year, according to estimates by education groups, with some counts putting the number at 25.

“Things like the ISAT are a waste of our time,” said Scott, who has opted out of non-mandatory testing for his own four children at Kenwood Academy and Whitney Young High School.

In the past, ISAT was used as one measure of school performance and was linked to state funding and other school resources. The test, which starts next week in the public schools, is being replaced by a redesigned test next year, and this year’s scores will only be used to determine whether schools are making adequate yearly progress, according to CPS.

“If it doesn’t count for anything, that’s too much,” said Lindsay Ramirez, whose daughter is in kindergarten at Murray and whose two sons spent a week preparing to take the test at Gary Comer College Prep. “That is a waste of time.”

Education activists are encouraging parents to opt out of the ISAT this year as one way to reclaim some of the classroom time devoted to testing.

“ISAT is very much an excess this year because it’s not being used for student evaluations or administrative uses,” said Cassie Creswell, an organizer with More Than a Score, a coalition of activist groups and the Chicago Teachers Union. “I would say there is absolutely no reason not to opt out of ISAT.”

Creswell said the parents of about 80 students at Jane Addams Elementary School on the East Side and the parents of 34 students at Drummond Thomas Montessori School in Bucktown have opted out of the test.

The local school council at Drummond Thomas has also passed a measure on testing similar to the one at Murray.

Chicago Public Schools is required by federal law to administer some accepted form of standardized test, even if the scores are not used as they have been in the past.

Joel Hood, a CPS spokesman, said the district encouraged parents to support their children taking the ISAT because it allowed for teachers and schools "to tailor instructional planning each year."

Hood added that the ISAT exam gave teachers and students "a first glimpse" at what a new exam aligned with upcoming academic requirements set by the state Common Core State Standard would look like.

That, Hood said, would help "the district ensure that every child is on track to graduate 100 percent college-ready and 100 percent college-bound."

Scott said he talked about the benefits of testing his four children with their principals and teachers and decided it was not worth it.

“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,” Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools wrote in a Jan. 29 letter to teachers.

Scott said his children would read while the other students were being tested.