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.
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