Anti-testing movement plans 2016 strategy as education cuts take center stage

CPS testing
The opt-out movement faces additional obstacles in rallying support amid CPS's financial turmoil (Alberto G./Flickr).

By Morgan Gilbard 

Anti-testing advocates worry that the opt-out movement will take a backseat this year as Chicago Public Schools and the state drown in a sea of other problems.

Concern over budget cuts and teacher union negotiations threaten to overshadow a movement that led to 20,000 Chicago students opting out of standardized tests last year. Statewide, 44,000 students opted out of tests.

“It has an impact in that there’s only so much energy to put into these things,” explained Cassie Creswell, an organizer for More Than a Score.

The popular anti-testing group began planning their strategy for 2016 last week on the South Side of Chicago. More Than a Score didn’t expect last year’s surge of support and cite CPS’s growing tension with the community as a key factor in making the movement more prominent, according to Creswell.

While the movement could get a similar surge of support this year, organizers also anticipate more obstacles. “It’s hard to be concerned about tests when parents are worried about, ‘Oh, is my student going to have a teacher to give him that test?’ ” Creswell said.

Creswell withdrew her two children from CPS because of its testing policies, which she felt impacted the curriculum in a “developmentally inappropriate” way. She has no regrets about switching schools. “It’s important not to be complicit in the system and take direct action and say, ‘We’re fed up.’ ”

Debate over testing reaches beyond Chicago

Overall, 2.1 percent of Illinois public school students opted-out of testing in 2015, approximately 3 percentage points under the penalty threshold set by the federal government, according to the State Board of Education. State officials warned last year that if more than 5 percent of students refused to take required tests, Illinois would face sanctions as severe as a possible loss of $1 million in federal funding.

However, some school and state officials side with anti-testing organizers. U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-14th District) accused the Department of Education of using the funding restrictions to exert unfair influence over state education practices.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that students and parents are left with no option other than to opt out because the White House isn’t listening to their concerns,” Hultgren wrote in the Chicago Tribune last March.

CPS did not respond to requests for comment on the anti-testing movement.

Creswell and other More Than a Score leaders say they have had no luck in trying to contact CPS officials since the beginning of the state budget impasse in July.

“The lack of a state budget means that the state is still not entirely sure what they’re going to pay for,” Creswell said. “I don’t think they have answers and there’s a lot of questions there. There’s an atmosphere of perpetual chaos.”

Photo at top: CPS students made up approximately 20,000 of the students who opted-out of testing last year. (Alberto G./Flickr)