Disillusionment with D97's ISAT rigidity

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I have a fourth-grader in Oak Park. I was one of two families who chose to opt out of the ISAT. I had no idea that I would have to swallow a bitter pill of disillusionment about what it means to work with the district. I was told that I could either let him take the test or keep him home for two weeks. Opting out essentially meant he would be denied his right, as a public school student, to access daily instruction. 

Next year, the ISAT will be replaced with a new test. This year, the data will not be used to measure student progress, school performance, promotions, or selective enrollment. Yet $18 million was spent to purchase, distribute, and administer the test. I wonder if any parent really knows how many weeks of instruction time is lost for test prep. That is the biggest cost. Ask any third- through eighth-grader in Oak Park what they think of ISAT season to get a better picture.

After pleading, the district said he could attend school if he sat through the test without any learning material until the first student was done. He came home and said, "it felt like a 30-minute time out" and was concerned about the next day with even longer hours of testing. It was clear the solution we came up with was not working for the person who needed it: my son. 

To resolve this issue, the Illinois Board of Education (ISBE) ISAT coordinator contacted my district and recommended they allow my son to turn in his test and read a book. My district said no. Why?

Education reform aside, this is also a civil rights issue. As a parent, I have the right to opt out of Halloween parties if I'm religious or dissecting a frog if I'm vegan. I understand that Illinois doesn't have an opt-out policy and in order to be compliant with state law, the test must be "offered" to my child. Yet thousands of families in Illinois have managed to opt out without punishment to parents for exercising their rights or to children by denying them access to instruction.

Almost 10 years ago, the Gill family in Oak Park fought this same battle for me. Yet here I am doing it all over again in the same town. It makes Oak Park look primitive. Despite living in a progressive place like Oak Park, some things don't change. 

Patty Keyuranggul

Oak Park

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OP Transplant  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 6:49 PM

The state code is strange - it requires schools to administer, but doesn't explicitly require students to take it. The code governs the professionals. Perhaps, when written, that relationship was inferred; students and parents used to pretty much do what school officials asked. I agree with you that something should change. The code requires the schools to do something that they don't have the power to do. Not good law.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 6:28 PM

Personally, I don't think a change in the law is really needed. There can be compromises for a policy from ISBE where students must receive the materials then are free to go read or do homework. But a change in law or court ruling would explicitly guide...which could be nice to avoid confusion. Evan as currently written, parents have a right to refuse testing though. Whether you have my kid sit there for an hour or excuse them in advance is just a matter of pragmatism.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 5:24 PM

You're within your rights to work to change the state education code. I disagree with pressuring licensed professionals to violate the body of law that regulates their profession. Your belief is so strong, you're willing to have other people take a risk to prove your point. Change the law and that's not an issue. Of course, then there's no data on student or school performance, so we can't identify underserved student populations. There are reasons state boards require assessment.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 5:04 PM

It's a parental rights civil liberties issue. But even if the ACLU doesn't take it up, I imagine some other parent will sue on behalf. My kids are so young--I'm fairly confident there will be an opt-out policy in place long before it becomes a direct issue for our family. Other states have specific opt-out laws in place but Springfield has more pressing matters.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:52 PM

Hard to imagine the ACLU's interest here. Participation in assessment is required of all students whose parents choose for them to receive public education. The severely disabled can be exempted by IEPs. Hard to be fairer than that. First world problems, as they say.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:47 PM

Many schools will retry testing the student when they come back or during the retest period.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:39 PM

If you don't want your child tested, districts generally prefer that you keep him or her at home during the assessment period. The state can't require schools to assess a student who isn't there, and the child isn't put in the position of having to disobey either a parent or a teacher.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:28 PM

By the way, there is a group of parents asking the ACLU to get involved so perhaps a lawsuit will sort this out eventually.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:20 PM

There's really two issues: what to do with students when their parents ask them not to be given the test. And then what to do with the students who are presented with a test but choose to use the time for something else. My understanding is that state law requires the test to be put in front of the child. But that seems ridiculous if we know ahead of time the child will be leaving everything blank and staring at a wall for the whole testing session.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 4:04 PM

The concept of "opting out" does not exist in the state code. Educators are required to assess every student who attends during the assessment period, unless the student is exempted by an IEP. Since there is no such thing as "opting out", state education law doesn't give schools any guidance on what to do when students do opt out. For schools, like for other organizations, it's unwise to create a written policy covering what to do while in violation of the law which governs their operation.

Confused with State Law  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 3:36 PM

OP transplant - you're wrong. Schools can provide alternatives once the child who's not taking the test returns it without filling it out. (The school has done its job then with what the state wants) The kid has to be given the test but doesn't have to take it. the problem is one school will allow the kids to read in the library, but another makes them sit without doing anything else. There should be an official policy so there isn't inconsistency in different schools.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 24th, 2014 4:04 PM

Some local parents are unhappy that the district does not provide alternate instruction for their children while other students are testing. They cannot, or course, since they are required to administer the tests to each student.

Confused with State Law  

Posted: March 24th, 2014 3:21 PM

I'm sorry but from my understanding the law states that schools must administer the test to each student but the student is not mandated to take it. I know one student that was simply able to turn the test back to his teacher and it was tagged as "a refusal" and all was fine and dandy. The student didn't lose any instruction and the school was compliant. I think the problem is some schools can't leave it at that. Is it really state law that the student must fill out the test?

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 7:07 PM

I guess the answer, then, is to work to change the laws that require districts to administer assessment to every student. Then, come up with a way to gather needed data without assessing students. It's a pretty radical reformation of the way education systems have come to function in most industrialized countries. Or, simpler yet, kids could just take the tests.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 4:55 PM

It's a situation where it was cute when it was 1 or 2 crazy parents that districts could handle on a case-by-case basis. Now that thousands of parents are choosing to opt-out and entire schools, it's become more of a problem. They're trying to close the barn door after the horses are gone, at this point. At least a few CPS schools offered a classroom to put opt-outs in. That's a start.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 4:45 PM

"OPT, parents don't need to ask to be exempt. They already are." But these parents are causing the school to be in violation of the state code which requires them to administer the ISAT to every student. That's why your school isn't offering alternative forms of instruction for the students who don't take the ISAT. The school isn't allowed by law to permit the student not to take the ISAT, let alone to offer alternatives.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 2:49 PM

OPT, parents don't need to ask to be exempt. They already are. Parents have been opting out of testing in IL for years now. What Patty is really addressing here is whether those families who make that choice are treated badly by our particular district. I'd like to see both sides reach a compromise of letting these kids stay in school and receive instruction rather than have to just stay home. But that's just me.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 2:14 PM

"sometimes we don't know what the law is until somebody brings a lawsuit" - Just not true. The Illinois School Code is law, and your child, lie most others, is required to participate in certain standardized assessment. What you're wondering is whether a court will change the current code if it is challenged. Maybe it will, but there's little question of what the current law says. You're asking that your child be exempt from the rules that apply to his or her peers.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 1:10 PM

OP Transplant, the problem with our legal system is sometimes we don't know what the law is until somebody brings a lawsuit. Quite a few states already have official opt-out policies and there is a long, long court history here in the US of giving deference to parents in matters of school participation issues. Personally, do I just keep my kids home and not make a big deal? Perhaps somebody like the ACLU could get involved to support some of these parents. I think the movement is still deciding.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 12:44 PM

"I think it will eventually be found unconstitutional." - I'd be interested in learning what language in the Constitution frees one from participation in standardized testing in a public school system. Clearly, no has found it yet, because states have been mandating standardized assessment for a long time.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 12:25 PM

Marc, you hit on the key...the question for the courts is can the state mandate that all students be given regular testing if it is against parent wishes. I think it will eventually be found unconstitutional. But it shouldn't have to come to that.

Marc Stopeck from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 12:17 PM

Patty, this is not a civil rights issue. It is true that you can opt out of Halloween parties. However, such parties are not mandated by the state. In general, we are not permitted to "opt out" of state or federal laws. I don't like buying auto insurance, but that doesn't mean I should be allowed to opt out of it. If, as a citizen, you feel that your rights are being violated by the law, the constitution allows you two methods of redress. Either you can petition the legislature to change the law or you can go to the courts. If in fact you have a "right not to have your child tested in public schools" then it is up to the judicial system to affirm that, not the local school district. Alternatively, you do have a legal right in the U.S. to opt out of the public school system altogether. As another commenter pointed out last week, private schools subject their students to many fewer standardized tests.

OP Transplant  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 11:37 AM

What the state knows and some parents aren't considering is that self-selective participation in standardize assessment renders the resultant data less valid. Since the data is being used to develop curriculum, guide instruction, and allocate limited resources, its validity is extremely important. "Opt-out" parents want their children to benefit from this data, but don't want them to participate in the process. Kind of a difficult position to justify, in my opinion. So my kids took the test.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 11:25 AM

School Admin, I think that's the problem is that the rules being followed by the districts/ISBE conflict with the rights of parents to have their children not participate in classes, activities, etc.. It's going to have to be mediated soon to figure out which trumps. Both sides think they're following the law and we'll have to see who is correct. I don't blame districts too much because I think they're caught in the middle on this. The pressure to test is coming from higher up.

School Administrator...Elsewhere  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 11:01 AM

Illinois School Code does not have any sort of "opt-out" option for parents. All students are required to take the ISATs, so District 97's response to either keep your child home (or your will be child tested) is the school code-abiding response.

Another opt-out dad  

Posted: March 19th, 2014 8:00 AM

Patty, I think the ISBE and school districts need to come up with a compromise policy on alternative instruction before it's forced on them. (Or maybe that's what they're waiting for?) Parents and schools could/should work together to figure it out. The whole test bullying thing is so silly. Sooner or later, a family is going to file a lawsuit over this subject...which is such a waste when accommodation easy. But, yes, it is a civil rights issue.

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