Parents Give district a “D” for its test-focused polic
Chicago, IL: Today, tens of thousands of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parents will flock to their children’s schools to pick up student report cards and meet with teachers. They look forward to these meetings as an important step in strengthening the home-school connection. Report card pick-up day is the best opportunity most parents have to learn how to help their children succeed in school from the people that know the most about how to do that – their children’s teachers.
Parents take the report cards home and study them. They discuss them with their children – sometimes those are happy discussions, sometimes not so happy! Parents sign the back of the report card and slide the cards into their children’s backpacks, often taking that moment to resolve to do more to help their children learn and improve in the weeks ahead.
This process has been meaningful to parents for decades, but it’s been increasingly pushed aside as school districts like CPS give standardized test scores more and more power over students, teachers and schools.
Parents from the Chicago group More Than a Score disagree with this trend, and have presented CPS with an alternative promotion policy that relies primarily on report card grades and uses standardized test scores in the way they were intended to be used, as diagnostic tools and not high-stakes “gotcha” measures.
More Than a Score parents give CPS a “D” grade for a promotion policy that continues to focus too much on test scores and ignores the value of report cards.
“Report cards are the only evaluations that look at the students’ work over time and across all areas of learning. They are the only evaluations done by experienced, qualified adults who personally observe and assess each student’s progress,” said CPS parent Julie Fain.“That’s the kind of information that makes sense to parents and actually helps children. When we get our children’s standardized test scores at the end of the year, we don’t get to see the questions or their answers. We have no idea whether they missed a certain concept or were just distracted for part of the test. In any case, our children are so over-tested that these results have become less and less useful to parents.”
“The CPS promotion policy begins and ends with the state test score,” said Julie Woestehoff, head of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE). “Most of the information from report cards is ignored by CPS when end-of-the-year promotion decisions are made.”
“I believe standardize testing is a harsh way to keep a child from thinking outside the box. All our children have different needs, speeds, and challenges. I have witnessed up close and personal the emotional stress testing causes – creating a lack of self-esteem while labeling my children as dumb only because they did not meet your standardized laws. I support my children by opting them out of testing,” said Rousemary Vega, a CPS parent.
Parents who have opted their children out of standardized tests are also confused and concerned because the new promotion policy just swapped one high-stakes test (the SAT-10), for another (NWEA), making opting out more difficult.
Since the promotion policy was first implemented in 1996 by Paul Vallas, it has focused on test scores on the Iowa test, then the IGAP, ISAT, and SAT 10. The new proposal substitutes the NWEA, which CPS officials say is just temporary until they replace it with the PARCC Common Core tests.
“How are we supposed to keep track of this alphabet soup of tests?” asks Linda Schmidt, a CPS parent who notified her child’s school at the beginning of this school year that she does not want her student to take the NWEA. “Will my child be held back next August because I made a decision last September?”
Policymakers often cite the subjective nature of teacher grades as a reason for giving them less weight than standardized tests scores. However, test questions are written by subjective human beings, too, and test makers consistently state that their tests should not be used to make high-stakes decisions about children. The manual for the SAT-10, which CPS used last year to retain students, states that test scores “should be just one of the many factors considered and probably should receive less weight than factors such as teacher observation, day-to-day classroom performance, maturity level, and attitude” – just the kind of information in report cards.
“What’s wrong with report cards?” asked Wanda Hopkins, the parent of a CPS high school student. “If CPS does not trust teacher grades, they need to explain why and what they are doing to fix it. I trust my child’s teacher more than I trust for-profit test companies.”
Parents with More Than a Score believe that our proposed promotion policy offers an alternative to the CPS test-based promotion policy that respects input from teachers, avoids the pitfalls of standardized test misuse and retention, makes sense to parents, and – most importantly – provides a higher quality evaluation of each student’s progress and needs.
Notes to the proposed alternative promotion policy here.