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ILLUSTRATION: More than a scoreCHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union and President Karen Lewis addressed the growing controversy over high stakes student testing in Chicago’s public schools last night at a special community forum at Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. Joining Lewis were current and former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students speaking out against the prevalence of standardized testing, and guest speaker Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and leading advocate for education justice who recently led a boycott of standardized testing at Garfield High School in Seattle.

For Lewis and education advocates in attendance, testing has become part of the war on public education—a war that has now reached a crisis point. As CPS has increased the number of tests its students are subjected to starting in kindergarten, injustice grows through a multi-million dollar industry that infiltrates the district with evaluations that are unfair, biased and that consume significant classroom time despite being of little value in the actual education of children. 

Standardized testing, designed to rank and sort, Lewis said, also contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.

Lewis explained an example of this discrimination, saying, “If there’s a question that all the black children get right but the white children do not, they throw that question out,” in favor of the “predominant” group of white students.

Other speakers included Leslie Leon, a senior at Gage Park High School who was among a group of students that boycotted the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and Malcolm London, a poet and Lincoln Park High School graduate who is leading a coalition of students speaking out against testing.

“I had a 1.9 GPA, got drunk before my ACT and still received a 25…now tell me how I’m supposed to ‘act’,” said London in a line from his award-winning poem, “High School Training Ground.” 

Speaking to the crowd of nearly 200 forum participants, Seattle’s Hagopian shared some background on the Seattle boycott and the importance of union support for Garfield High School teachers. He described an inherent flaw in the use of standardized testing: The evaluations only prepare students to be better test-takers, and do not prepare them for their goals, their dreams and their futures.

“They want to reduce the teaching and learning process to an A-B-C-D answer, but the problems we face in society today don’t have those types of solutions, and they can’t be solved by filling in a bubble sheet,” Hagopian said. “These problems can only be solved by critical thinking, with students that are taught to be leaders, in a classroom where we value civic courage. 

“These can’t be measured by the MAP test, and that’s why our destination is not on the map.”

The event was sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union, which is a member of the More Than a Score coalition of parents, students, teachers, and community members; the CReATE coalition of higher education researchers and advocates for transformative education; and Mt. Carmel MB Baptist Church.

View photos from the forum at the CTU Flickr page.