Larry McIntyre’s daughter spent the first day of the ISAT testing Monday taking tests she really didn’t understand, her father said. McIntyre had intended to keep his 10-year-old, fourth-grade daughter with special needs from taking the mandatory state testing as outlined by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
But the Oak Park parents whose daughter attends Irving Elementary received a letter last week from District 97 saying that she not only would have to sit out the first week of testing, but also next week, as mandated by the state.
McIntyre said his daughter shouldn’t be required to take the Illinois Standard Achievement Test because she’s at least two years below her grade level as a special needs child. He said she has to answer questions she just doesn’t understand, and that there should be some alternative testing for special needs kids. But those concerns have fell on deaf ears from the state and the district, he said.
“We’ve never received any good answers,” he said. “Every place we went to, they kept passing the blame. There was one level of government after the other not taking responsibility.”
McIntyre said in the past, the state allowed parents to keep their children out of school during morning testing, which he planned to do since his daughter was required to take the ISAT test as a fourth-grader. Those kids could return later in the afternoon when testing was over and regular classes resumed.
But a letter went out last week to parents holding their kids out saying that all students in the building must be tested. Students who missed any days during the first week would be retested the following week during the makeup period. But that left parents like McIntyre with a tough decision. He decided to allow his daughter to test instead of keeping her out for two weeks.
According to Dist. 97 Asst. Supt. for Teaching and Learning Kevin Anderson, the decision allowing teachers to sit out was made by the previous administration, and that the current one is just following the law.
“I sympathize with his situation, but our feeling right now is that we have to do what the state says,” said Anderson, who wouldn’t talk specifically about what was done in the previous administration.
Oak Park parent Jim Gill, whose keeping both of his daughters from testing this week and the next, doesn’t buy the argument.
Gill’s daughters are not special needs children, but he and his wife have never allowed his fourth-grader at Mann nor his oldest daughter who now attends Percy Julian Middle School to take the tests. He said they did so because they don’t believe the tests benefit any school children.
“The district in the past has not agreed with our decision,” said Gill, who sympathizes with the parents of special needs kids. “For those parents, this moves beyond just a philosophical argument. It’s really about protecting their child.”
In a voice mail message Monday, an official from the Illinois State Board of Education reiterated the policy mandating ISAT testing for any student in the building during the test period.
But Gill said he hasn’t found any law saying such a thing and said school districts can interpret the law, which seems to be what Dist. 97 did in years past.
“You’re not going to find any law, anywhere, saying that states are supposed to do this,” said Gill, who received a letter from the district about the policy two weeks ago. “The district has chosen to do this and it’s the district that’s keeping my children out of school.”
Anderson said that parents could contact the state for answers, but that the district’s hands are tied.
“Until that works out we have to be as conservative as we can about this,” he said. “I wish it could be more flexible. That appears to be the line that the state is holding and we have to go with that.”
McIntyre’s daughter is in her third day of testing. He said when she first took the test last year she came home crying. He said after the first testing day on Monday, she came home and said the test went fine when he asked her about it.
“We talked to our daughter and she said she’s willing to give it a try.”