Pharos-Tribune

Columns

March 9, 2014

CEPEDA: Chicago at war over testing

As education reform takes hold across the country, we find ourselves traveling through another dimension — one not only of hysterics but also of childish behavior. There’s a signpost up ahead, our next stop: The Stupid Zone!

I mock the absurdities that seemingly accompany every skirmish in the education revolution because the back-and-forths among teacher unions, education policymakers and parents on changes to how students and schools are assessed are as weird and disturbing as “The Twilight Zone.”

The latest one in my hometown — over how the Chicago Public Schools district (CPS) reacted to teachers, parents and about 1,500 children at 80 schools who chose to boycott a soon-to-be-discontinued standardized test -- is about as absurd as it gets.

A little background first.

There has been a movement by well-meaning parents and teachers to not only stem the tide of high-stakes standardized testing, but to try to disconnect the results of these exams from teacher and school evaluations. They argue that “teaching to the test” is a misuse of educational time, stresses children out (some call testing “abuse”) and is a poor indicator of student academic ability and teacher effectiveness.

Along the way, they’ve convinced their children — and many others — that these tests are frightening, useless and bad for them, and urge students to simply skip them.

As a former teacher and current mother of public school students, I couldn’t disagree more with such wrongheaded ideas.

Grade-level standardized tests are aligned with state learning expectations, so if teachers are “teaching to the test,” then students are practicing subject matter that has been deemed necessary for the successful completion of their grade.

I’ve never once seen children stressed out by these supposedly trauma-inducing tests. As a first-grade and high-school teacher, and through careful observation of my sons’ testing experience, I’ve overwhelmingly seen kids not mind missing their regular classes for grade-level tests. It’s a change, they get treats to “boost” their performance and several days without homework.

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