Chicago Activists Slam Tests

K-12 Testing

A coalition of Chicago organizations, the LSC Summit, has called on the city to stop misusing standardized tests for grade promotion decisions. The organizations also asked the tests' publisher to stop selling the exams to the city unless the city stops misusing them. (LSC stands for Local School Council.)

Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) policy is to automatically deny promotion to students who fall below certain cut-scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) or the Tests of Academic Proficiency (TAP), which are sold by Riverside Publishing. Riverside's Interpretive Guide says that the Iowa "should not be used alone" to "decide to retain students at a grade level."

Noting that retention itself is contentious, the Guide explains that if a retention decision is to be made, "classroom assessment data gathered by the teacher... is likely to form a highly relevant and accurate basis for making such a decision." Riverside requires test purchasers to sign an agreement that they will follow the guidelines for proper test use.

At a January 27 press conference, Summit members indicated they may support litigation against the district and perhaps the publisher if the district continues to violate the test use guidelines.

The district has maintained that because students can take the tests more than once and because students can be held back for reasons other than the test score, it does not violate the policy. However, the test is a stand-alone hurdle, since students with good attendance and grades can be held back solely based on their test scores. Allowing students to retake the test does not change the fact that achieving a particular score is a requirement for promotion. Also, while the district does issue some promotion waivers, it has no consistent guidelines.

Test Driven "Reform"

Chicago has been praised and criticized as a model of test-driven "reform" (see Examiner, Fall 1997). Several recent reports from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) have raised ever more serious questions about the quality of instruction in CPS. As predicted by assessment reform advocates, it appears that testing has crowded out real teaching and learning in too many schools as educators respond to the pressures to boost scores by teaching the test. The reports found that huge amounts of time are wasted, the curriculum fails to help students build on their learning from grade to grade, and most students are not engaged in challenging intellectual work.

-- See our fact sheet on Testing and Grade Retention