Full remarks from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis at a Nov. 7, 2013, press conference announcing the start of the Union’s “Let Us Teach!” campaign against standardized testing:
Today we want to share with you some insights into what happens every day in schools across the City of Chicago.
Specifically, I’m talking about the nearly 30,000 Chicago Teachers Union members who work to prepare, support, and deliver the best possible educational program they can to the 400,000-plus students who attend the Chicago Public Schools.
Our members are state-certified educators, trained in their profession. They come to school ready to teach, to encourage, and to help children of all ages to be prepared for a life of intellectual inquiry, for pursuit of further knowledge, for citizenship . . . and even to be ready for employment.
A very critical set of activities in our work is to determine, to evaluate, and to assess what our students have learned in the classroom from the curricula we teach each day. Every student assessment tells us where we have been successful in teaching, what students have learned, and also where we need to focus extra attention in future instruction.
Historically, and in schools, colleges, and universities around the world, student assessments – or tests of knowledge – are designed by teachers AND based on what has been taught. As a Chemistry teacher, I created such assessments, and I understood this to be a major tenet of professionalism in teaching.
In contrast to that, today we will share with you what we know about a destructive national trend called STANDARDIZED TESTING.
In general, standardized tests are devised from afar, not locally. It has been documented again and again that these multi-million dollar, rigidly prescribed, standardized testing programs often aim to judge students against measures that have little or nothing to do with what the classroom teacher has taught or is expected to teach.
In Chicago, we’ve seen the roll-out of dozens of these standardized tests – – in a budget challenged school system which is not even prepared to even administer them properly. The tests:
- Are rushed into classrooms with inadequate preparation for both students and teachers
- Used for inappropriate age groups or grade levels
- Do not inform future student instruction
- Consume huge amounts of instructional time and financial cost, and are a heavy paperwork burden
- And most outrageous of all, some standardized tests even require 5-year-old kindergarten children to use computer technology they have never seen or touched!
The revelations that classroom teachers and parents share with us about the anxiety, frustration, and depression that these standardized tests cause for children are horrendous.
Therefore, we are announcing the Chicago Teachers Union’s LET US TEACH campaign and joining in today’s National Day of Action on Testing along with teachers and parents across the country who are alarmed by what is a clear and present danger to children and a threat to their education.
Right now, parents and teachers are mobilizing against standardized tests in:
- New York, New York
- Cleveland Heights, Ohio
- Seattle, Washington
- Denver, Colorado
- Los Angeles, Oakland, and Bay Area schools in California
WHY are we doing this?
We object to the growing trend to mandate unproven standardized tests which are a major drain on classroom time, undermine education, and stand in stark contrast to the proven student assessment tools of classroom teacher-developed quizzes, exams, checklists, and homework given daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly. These are student assessment tools that relate directly to the actual curricula students learn. They are not the result of some corporate think-tank exercise or focus group!
Beyond the failure of standardized tests to help evaluate or provide guidance on anything relevant to teaching in Chicago, we also see evidence of them being used politically – here and elsewhere. Performance on these invalid tests is used punitively:
- To justify decisions about student and school rankings
- To target so-called “failing or underperforming” schools, and ultimately
- To make decisions about school closings
Just as shocking, we are appalled that student performance on these unproven standardized tests is used to evaluate performance and determine the fate of the very teachers charged with administering these tests!
We are outraged that the Illinois State Legislature, the Illinois State Board of Education, and the Chicago Public Schools now mandate that Chicago students take an array of nearly 30 standardized tests – aimed at preschool children through students in the 12th grade.
The questions we must ask – and I hope you will ask also – are these:
- Why must our public school children be subjected to this battery of pointless standardized testing throughout the year, every year?
- How much is CPS paying for these standardized testing programs and to whom?
Children don’t take these standardized tests at the University of Chicago Lab School. Children who attend our city’s other elite private schools don’t take these tests either. Why not?
We urge you to consider these factors in understanding why we all must act to stop Chicago’s massive standardized testing program:
- Consider the fact that children are harmed
- Consider the loss of classroom instructional time
- Consider the damage to teacher professionalism
- Consider that these tests are not used to inform instruction, but to rank and sort students, close schools, and stigmatize school communities.
These concerns are at the heart of the Chicago Teachers Union’s new campaign to fight standardized testing. We are urging parents to:
- Opt-out of standardized testing.
- Demand that the Chicago Public Schools immediately stop the clearly harmful and pointless standardized testing of children in Pre-school and Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
- Call or email CPS officials to protest standardized testing:
We are encouraging CTU members to:
- Talk to students’ parents about standardized testing and urge them to call CPS officials.
- File a “Limitations on Paperwork” contract grievance.
- Distribute leaflets outside of school to students and parents.
- Take a stand! Meet with school colleagues. Tell principals and Local School Council members that these standardized tests are harming children. Schools should drastically reduce administer the number of tests.
- Ask the school’s LSC to sign a letter to CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett that they want excessive testing stopped.