Forcing non-English-speaking students to take high-stakes test robs children of valuable learning time and undercuts students’ education, charge teachers, who urge CPS to support parents who want to opt out their children.

CHICAGO—A third of Chicago’s public school students are Latinx, with many just beginning to build their English language skills. Yet starting this week, CPS plans to administer a rebranded statewide test, the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, or IAR to students—including newly arrived immigrants who have been in the country for less than a year. The test, charge teachers and advocates, robs students of critical classroom time—and forces thousands of children to take a high-stakes test in a language they do not understand.

CTU teachers are pushing back, calling on CPS to advise parents that their children have the right to opt out of the test—a process that CPS has sought to thwart in the past.

Teachers and allies will hold a press conference at 7AM on Tuesday, March 12 at Hernandez Middle School to outline the educational harm and hardship the test causes for new English learners, and demand that CPS respect students’ right to opt out. Hernandez, whose students are over 96% Latinx, is located at 3510 W. 55th St. in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood.

Illinois’ new policy of testing non-English speaking newcomers in English Language Arts has emerged as a critical issue—especially since children’s test performance will be used as a ‘baseline’ score for students, even though these students lack language skills in their new nation. In past years, CPS has pressured students to take the test, which can take six hours or more, and undermined parents’ efforts to opt their children out of the test. Educators and advocates charge that the test has little value as an assessment tool, and instead is often used as a bludgeon to undercut educators whose students fail to ‘make the grade’.

Educators are demanding that CPS reverse its past policy of misleading staff, parents and students about the right to opt out—and end its practice of implying that schools with less than a 95% testing threshold could lose funding, which is false. Low participation can now make a school eligible for additional state funds. Instead, say educators, CPS should treat students who chose to opt out with humanity and respect—and change past practices of intimidating parents who wish to opt their children out of state testing or retaliating against teachers who support students’ and parents’ rights.

The CTU is also asking the new state superintendent and board of ISBE, the Illinois State Board of Education, to revise their existing policy that parents have no right to be involved in opt out.

During Bruce Rauner’s tenure as governor, ISBE acknowledged that children had the right to opt out. But under Rauner, ISBE also claimed that parents had no right to be involved in that process, even though parental opt out is allowed under federal law, and states that include California, Wisconsin, Utah and Pennsylvania have formalized opt-out rights in their laws. Educators hope that ISBE’s new leadership will be more receptive to protecting non-English speaking and other vulnerable students who may be unable to refuse testing themselves from high-stakes testing than the previous administration.

The “new” IAR test for 3rd – 8th graders is essentially a rebranded PARCC test, which parents and educators have condemned as a boondoggle for students and teachers—but a lucrative source of profit for the largest education company in the world, Pearson, which has a long history of problems in test administration. Most states have abandoned PARCC as the national movement against high-stakes testing has grown and a growing body of research exposes its shortcomings.

The CTU has made more support for bilingual education a linchpin in its contract negotiations. The IAR, they argue, thwarts contract demands that seek to protect these students and support their educational needs.

Copies of the CTU’s letters to ISBE and CPS will be available at the press conference.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.