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Testing under fire from teachers union

On the National Day Against Testing, the Chicago Teachers Union called on parents to "opt out" of standardized testing. At a press conference on Thursday, the union announced the launch of the “Let Us Teach” campaign, to not only urge parents to refuse to let their children take part in tests but also to call on CPS to stop giving any standardized exams to children in kindergarten through 2nd grade.

In addition, the CTU is telling its members to take action with the goal of curbing the time spent on testing-- ask parents to complain to CPS officials, file grievances regarding paperwork associated with tests and advocate to their principals that the number of tests be limited.

This is the first time that the union has participated in the National Day of Action On Testing, a campaign led by public school teachers in six major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, who want to limit the time spent on high-stakes testing.

CPS officials responded to CTU’s announcement by saying that district leaders have heard and responded to concerns about the over-testing of students. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced last summer a change in the district’s assessment policy, cutting the number of required exams to the literacy assessments for primary grades, the annual state tests given in the spring and the assessments used for teacher evaluations.

In all, CPS officials said they eliminated 15 tests.

However, CTU President Karen Lewis said the change in policy has since been followed by the introduction of more benchmark performance assessments that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards that CPS is implementing. And while these tests may not be officially required, Lewis said that the network offices are pressuring schools to administer some of them.

CPS officials say that the Common Core exams must be given, but teachers can create their own and do not have to use those that the district provides. “For many schools, teachers collaborated over the summer to create an assessment that measured the skills taught within that unit,” according to a CPS official.   

CPS acknowledged that parents have the right to opt out, but they emphasized that these benchmarks and standardized tests give teachers information that will help them determine how to adjust their teaching. 

But Lewis said the benchmark assessments being pushed by the district are questionable. A school system that is already “budget challenged” shouldn’t be spending money on consultants and test prep materials that end up taking away from valuable classroom instructional time, she said.

“These tests are not used to inform instruction, but to rank schools and stigmatize school communities,” said Lewis.

Tara Mack, a parent at Peirce Elementary in Edgewater, said the back-and-forth between what is required and what is not required has added to the confusion for parents trying to navigate these tests. It “further erodes” the relationship between them and CPS, she said.

“There’s an absence of trust between parents and CPS,” Mack said. “I feel like I don’t know what they’re really doing surrounding this, and it makes parents feel like they have to be the expert.”

Lewis said parents need to know what tests are mandatory and how or whether they help their child. Some of the exams are “age-inappropriate,” she said. For example, it is not good to test young children using computer-based tests that get harder as the child progresses, she said. These types of tests are “horrendous,” especially for children as young as 5, Lewis said.

If a large enough group of parents opt out of standardized testing, it sends a message to district leaders and may push the district to make more dramatic changes.  Lewis pointed to New York City’s Castle Bridge School, a primary grades school that canceled its multiple-choice standardized tests after more than 80 percent of parents opted to have their children sit out of the exam.


Sue Ryan wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Excessive testing

20 days of the first quarter were impacted by assessments/testing. Ridiculous and completely unnecessary! Kindergarten.....

northside wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago


Question....anyone have the joy of being reviewd with reach. Its like being back at college. Have a bad day u can litterally find yourself on the road to unsuccessful....its basically made my future very tenuous

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

REACH and other absurdities

Every teacher who is facing the REACH silliness has to keep very accurate notes of each iteration of the process. It will prove worth the time and effort, even though it's an insult. REACH and PARCC are ultimately going to implode, in part because the principals do not have the time in a real day to do the job right, and their "union" is so weak that it is silent on this latest affront to those who are still trying to be professionals (arguably, a minority). There is no reason for teachers at the local school level to cut the principals (and assistant principals) any slack on the REACH requirements -- and last Wednesday, the union's leaders, including Karen Lewis, warned the delegates not to.

Over the next year, the national and local deconstructions of the bases for REACH and PARCC will be fun to watch. Right now it's ugly for some individuals... But any system that is based on the "value added" frauds pioneered in Tennessee will come crashing down -- in a tsunami of giggles and guffaws -- once the details are made clear.

Of course, if you go back over the alphabet soup of "standards" and "accountability" nonsense pushed by the Chicago Board of Education since the first day of Paul Vallas (July 1995, for those who want accuracy), every one of them has been stupid or worse.

We had the IGAP, which was followed by and coincided with the ITBS and the TAP, but those were surpassed by the ISAT, which was also supplemented by "multiple measures" (meaning, many different tests; be careful what you wish for) which has now degenerated into REACH and PARCC. Oh, and then in the middle of all that muddle was CASE, on which Vallas wasted more than a million dollars until we helped laugh that one out of town.

Notice: The test doesn't matter.

What the ruling class wants is (a) a secret testing that (b) they get to announce the results of.

It's been a teacher bashing and union busting trick from the day Vallas first flummoxed people about discontinuing the ITBS (so he would achieve a low "base" score in 1996) in favor of the IGAP. But corrupt accountants' tricks, whether from "Chainsaw Al Dunlap" at Subeam Inc. or "Chainsaw Paul Vallas" across the Eastern half of the USA are still a bunch of BS.

The difference this year is that a national movement, helped by two outstanding books exposing all this stuff (Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error and Jim Horn and Denise Wilborn's Mismeasure of Education) have stripped bare the pretenses and pretexts of the corporate reformers.

If the principals had any integrity, a dozen of them would be standing up at each meeting of the Board of Education and denouncing the latest "Performance Matrices" and demanding to know why Chicago had to hire a guy from Memphis (there's Tennessee again) to be Chicago's "Chief Accountability Officer."

As Bill Murray said at the end of Ghostbusters: What a town!

retired principal II wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

principals do not have a union

principals are at-will discharge, unless you have a contract CPS can go after that too
Prinicipals have a professional organization, it is optional-you pay to join and you get some legal assistance-maybe get a collective voice heard
CPS knows this and takes great advantage of it
imagine what more CPS would do to teachers if no CTU

northside wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

teachers union

Teachers union for techers is now really just to make sure teachers get paid, steps, holdiay, working hours which is VERY important. but as far as evaluations and teachers as indivuals. reach has pretty much overrided any teacher indivudual protection. of course you can keep great notes, but really? how can you be observed as "being 100%" in tune to your teaching, if you are taking notes. the only way you might be ableto call out a bad reach evaluation is to video tape your lesson. but then who is going to video tape your inforaml evaluation.

I agree principals have it harder than teachers...but they make roughly double most they probably have more money socked away than a regular teacher. also, I HAVE never seen a principal fired and unemployed....even one that stole school supplies and got caught.....

i just wish principals would help many are trying to do a "gotcha" on their employees.....

i don't know....i think CPS has created this's our job to stick together...not try to appease the BULLY ....that is cps....

Veteran Teacher wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Reality, Please

"Principals have it harder than teachers." Yuck, yuck, yuck. Guffaw. Snort.

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Principal pay and benefits

This year, Chicago principals are paid between $130,000 and $150,000 per year, just about the highest in Illinois. Since Paul Vallas made assistant principals "at will" workers in 1997 (by removing them from the CTU's protection), assistant principals are also "management." They are paid between $95,000 and $115,000 per year. Their sufferings, such as they are, are voluntary. I knew on principal who voluntarily left the principal's job (at Bowen High School) and returned to the classroom (at Curie High School), where she ended her career with dignity. Right now, Chicago principals (and many assistant principals) are paid more than most across the state, as it easy to check (even with CPS keeping the Position Files secret).

The principals have an organization, supposedly a professional association.

The same indignities and atrocities that the CTU is fighting against are faced by the principals every day, but they have apparently chosen to smile a lot, shuck and jive a bit, and think about how never in their graduate school dreams did they believe they'd one day be "earning" six figures.

There are administrators who at every level provide the union, researchers, and Substance with information. That's been true since Paul Vallas was dropping "F" bombs on his early staff members, and even working overtime to gross them out by cleaning his toes while ordering them about. People can fight back.

I look forward to reporting principals at each Board meeting pointing out the absurdities they are facing every day. The last time I heard one was...

Well... Actually, never. A few have reported to the Board about facilities problems (e.g., Gallistel and Wildwood; a few others).

The rest have been silent as lambs -- well paid ones.

Today always reminds me of important stuff, and of how easy many of us have it. My father, along with millions of others, helped end Nazism (with the 44th Infantry Division in the "ETO"). In December 1944 and January 1945 he was living in holes in the ground while a million German soldiers swarmed across the area north of where he was trying with some success in that last ditch attempt to "win" called "The Battle of the Bulge." Every Armistice Day, I'm reminded of how little our struggles have been by comparison by those who have preceded us in the struggles for democracy and freedom.

So, when the principals begin speaking out against all this stuff, I'm glad to report it.

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 is sign in time for the Board of Education meeting. The meeting is a week from Wednesday. We'll be covering it, as usual, as we have since Paul Vallas was CEO and lying and Gery Chico was President of the Interim Board and lying.

And before then.

Meanwhile, as it was true about the Germans in 1944 and 1945 -- not all of them were Nazis doing all that nasty stuff. Just the majority.

I know, I know. Nazi comparisons are "offensive" to some people.

But so are cowards who promote tyranny to a much larger group of us.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

There goes George again.....

George, it's not the comparison's to Naziism that's offensive. It's the fact you resent anyone that is more successful than you which is ironic, because as a teacher you should want people to be successful. Instead you have made a career tearing people down which is really no different than what you claim CPS is doing. Your obsession with how much principals are paid overlooks the fact they have no protection. Their association is weak and feckless. It also overlooks and ignores how principals push back behind the scenes. Principals don't have to go to Board meetings and yell and scream like blowhards. Principals have the ears of Chiefs and other central office administrators. Just because they don't yell and scream like buffoons doesn't make them cowards. Plenty of principals supply information to reporters and watchdog groups. Yet you think they should just blow their top and lose it at a board meeting. Dumb strategy George. It's why you don't make six figures.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

He is a Blowhard

He is not a champion I want to fight for me. When he's yelling "NO ONE" is listening.

Rod Estvan wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Principal's association

The issue George has raised about the situation of principals is legitimate and it clearly raises the ire of some administrators. I think relative to the overall pay scale in the K-12 education sector CPS principals are paid well and the salary scale George cited is correct. But why the great silence on the part of principals relating to the massive testing regime that now is in place?

It is my opinion that most principals lack confidence that if they are dismissed by CPS that their own skill sets are sufficient to market themselves outside the education sector. Currently the pay scale for principals outside the city and in non-high income districts is significantly lower than in CPS and we don't even need to discuss charter schools. George is correct in that analysis.

I don't always agree with George and I often believe he overreaches in his arguments. But he has not lived in fear, fear that one wrong move will destroy his social economic status. I think that there is great resentment among some administrators who live in such fear towards George. This was not always the case. Historically there were principals who pushed back publicly and were quoted in the media, but no more. There has not been one serious piece of writing on educational administration published by an active CPS principal in a very long time and having taught at the college level I and testify some principals who were once teachers, even TFAers, have a severe critique of CPS as a school district. The lack of higher level intellectual discourse on the part of CPS principals has created a situation where there is very little pressure on what is left of the CPS central bureaucracy to make corrections until disaster has struck.

Rod Estvan

Anti-nonymous wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago


That's right Anonymous, George is wrong because he doesn't make six figures. Because people who make six figures are all smart and wonderful. And people who make seven figures are even smarter and more wonderful. So remember, don't ever criticize your "betters." And you can always tell your betters by how much money they make. The end.

retired principal II wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

you are correct Rod, CPS principals live in fear

CPS seems to not see the value in keeping talented and productive people employed for the long haul. A strategy seems to be, get rid of people who will set it straight and be honest as they keep a revolving door of confusion and chaos. One need only look at 125 to see the disorganization. Departments do not really communicate with each other and many there are afraid to say yes or no to anything so as not to be blamed or chastised. (I am in touch with many current principals.) Principals do leave CPS and in my knowledge, this was the most to resign in a short time. Sullivan High, Ravenswood, Chavez, Drummond, Shoop, Lasalle (future). There probably are silently more? NONE of these are retirements. That says something. And if there was any kind of a buyout, more would run to signup. One good reason why there will not be one – too embarrassing, even though there would be principals who would come up with money for an early buy-out just to get out.

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Halloween and Fantasy Costumes...

Chicago principals are cowards. Not everyone -- just the majority. Told to jump, they whine about all the work they have to do, and then ask "How high, master?" This school year, in the midst of the most chaotic and imbecilic systems of disorganization in Chicago history, few have spoken out. The number can be counted on two hands since the first iterations of "Student Based Budgeting" to the most recent Network reorganizations (which are still going on). Were Chicago not so delightfully isolated in this bizarre media bubble, people would be reading every day about principals and other school administrators around the USA who are speaking out -- loudly, professionally, and very publicly -- about the idiocies passing for policy from Washington to the states, from charter schools to the "austerity" attacks on public schools.

Sorry, but it gets to be a bit tacky for the vast majority of principals to be going around trying to be "instructional leaders" and set examples for the children in their schools when their natural position is a genuflection or something even less mature. At the worst, the majority (not all, as noted) are running around now warning that their schools are in danger of going from "Level Three" to the newly created "Level Five" without ever saying, as principals are doing elsewhere, that this whole eugenics-based Race To The Top stuff is as historically and ethnically bankrupt as it was the first time around during the previous century.

CitizensArrest wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Reach, designed to fail.

This is the long game meant to increase testing. Knowing they could not just carpet bomb Chicago with testing and it's associated waste of time and money, they came up with REACH and etc., a bogus, labor intensive look-it's-the-fox-guarding-the-hen-house scam. There was never any plan for or intention that principals would have the time to do all the observations, and Chicago is not the first place that principals have been burdened by absurdities designed to make them throw in the towel and accept what the deformers wanted all along. The union then gets the blame for forcing CPS to accept a 'substandard' test based teacher evaluation and the doors are opened wide for tin foil starred sheriff of VAM to ride in and save the day. The union should take further advantage of the unanticipated by CPS rebellion against testing that is sweeping the nation. and

Anonymous wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

leadership and fear

I respect the lack of anonymity here employed by people not employed by CPS. The fear is real.

I am sure parents are unhappy to note that teachers and leadership in their child's building are not operating by what is best but what will keep them employed.

CitizensArrest wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

What will keep them employed?

Your evidence for the claim that teachers and administration are not engaging in best practices is what exactly? Are you one of those mal-informed people who think that teachers can do whatever they want and so choose to do as little as possible? Explain the difference between what is best and what will keep them employed, how exactly does a system like that work, and who is responsible for establishing said system? Basically, you are saying that the way people can keep their jobs these days is by not doing them, an absurdly stupid position.

northside wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago


So teachers should take a big risk at the expense of their jobs? You know teachers have families too? You make no sense...we HAVE to do what admin says or we are gone? Love people who act like every teacher should be somewhere between einstein and florence nightengale?

BTW I hate the word BEST PRACTICES! It is so cliche!! Kind like old Stalinist claiming to be a good Soviet Socialist!!!

CitizensArrest wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Best Practices

1st, I was responding to the post above mine which sought to perpetuate the lie that teachers first (and only real) interest is keeping their jobs, one of the big lies being told about the profession. Due to absurdities such as VAM and the assault on tenure, teachers are at great risk of being fired for doing nothing other than doing their jobs and doing them right and well. Performance and effectiveness are often conflated by the malinformed, as if teaching were just another kind of assembly line work. Obviously it's not, and a clear majority parents trust and support their children's teachers while at the same time curiously believing that other teachers are not so good. Such is the efficacy of the lies being told about teachers these days.

northside wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

Reach Facts

Here are some reach facts I found on Wordpress

CitizensArrest wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago


Thanks for the link!

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