Chicago Paper Appeals Test Decision

K-12 Testing

Chicago’s Substance newspaper and its publisher, George Schmidt, have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a series of court decisions that have upheld the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) ability to keep secret its now-defunct Chicago Academic Standards Exams (CASE).


In 1999, Substance printed six of the 44 CASE high school subject area exams. CPS obtained a federal district court injunction against further dissemination of the tests and that issue of Substance, sued for $1.3 million in damages for the publication of the exams, and successfully moved to fire Schmidt from his position as a Chicago high-school teacher.


Schmidt maintained Substance had a constitutional right to publish the tests to demonstrate their poor quality. His lawyers claimed that CPS should not be able to hide its defective exams behind copyright law (see Examiner, Winter-Spring 2003), and that Schmidt should not be fired from his teaching position because of his position as publisher of Substance.


“These are important rights for everyone concerned with liberty, democracy, and public schools,” Schmidt explained.


The district court repeatedly blocked Schmidt’s efforts to ensure the copyright and constitutional issues were heard as part of the case. After several years of hearings, Substance signed an agreement to pay $500 in damages, which would be dropped if Substance won its appeals on the underlying legal issues. That award was later reduced to zero. Meanwhile, the city dropped the CASE exams after teachers refused to administer them (see Examiner, Fall 2002). In December 2003, the seventh circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Schmidt’s appeal.


The case has national implications. High-stakes exams increasingly control what students are expected to learn in school. But in most states, parents and the public are not allowed to examine the tests and are thus deprived of both basic information about the goals of their children’s schooling and the quality of the exams being used.


• For more information, see the June 2004 Substance, including the text of the Circuit Court’s decision and a lengthy analysis of the case and the decision by Schmidt; at Donations to their cause are welcome as the legal battle has been very expensive; send to 5132 W. Berteau Ave, Chicago, IL 60641.