A Chicago Teacher Explains How Her School Fought Back Against Standardized Testing—And Won

Sarah Chambers December 4, 2014

A Chicago elementary school teachers explains how parents and teachers organized a successful standardized testing boycott. (Bill Chambers / Facebook)

Excerpt­ed from More Than a Score, out now from Hay­mar­ket Books.

It was test­ing day. I had just read the direc­tions, which instruct­ed my stu­dents to fill in the bub­ble of the let­ter that cor­re­sponds to the best answer choice and the stu­dents had duti­ful­ly began read­ing pas­sages and dark­ly shad­ing bub­bles with their num­ber-two pencils.

All the stu­dents had begun except for one of my eleven-year-old boys at the end of the row of desks, who had stalled and was slouched over his test book­let. I watched as he plucked out his black eye­lash­es one by one, ago­niz­ing over a stan­dard­ized test that would deter­mine, in part, my effi­ca­cy as teacher and con­tribute to the over­all rat­ing of our school.

In that moment, I thought to myself, This over-test­ing is child abuse.” I can­not inflict this men­tal and emo­tion­al harm on one more stu­dent. That’s when the word boy­cott” first flashed across my mind.

This is the sto­ry of how an emo­tion became a move­ment in which the par­ents, stu­dents, and teach­ers of Maria Sauce­do Scholas­tic Acad­e­my orga­nized to reclaim the class­room and demand that stu­dents are more than a test score.

Boy­cotts do not just hap­pen — they are orga­nized. The test­ing boy­cott at my school was strate­gi­cal­ly planned with a mul­ti­fac­eted approach that includ­ed teacher, par­ent and stu­dent sup­port. Although the plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion of this strat­e­gy occurred in a one-month span, the agi­ta­tion around over-test­ing and employ­ee pow­er in the school orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture was built over a cou­ple of years.

Sauce­do Acad­e­my is a large pub­lic ele­men­tary school on the south­west side of Chica­go, with a dense immi­grant pop­u­la­tion and a high per­cent­age of stu­dents from dis­ad­van­taged socioe­co­nom­ic back­grounds. Because Sauce­do is an acad­e­my, our stu­dents must apply and are accept­ed through a lot­tery sys­tem. Sauce­do is a Lev­el 1 school with some of the high­est test scores in the area. The inten­tion of this boy­cott was not to remove tests that low­ered our school’s lev­el,” but was instead moti­vat­ed by much larg­er goals.

Over the past sev­er­al years, hand­fuls of par­ents across the city had already opt­ed their stu­dents out of var­i­ous assess­ments by writ­ing let­ters and meet­ing with their children’s prin­ci­pals. Chica­go-based More Than a Score is one par­ent advo­ca­cy group spread­ing the opt-out gospel,” and began by host­ing forums with par­ents address­ing the prob­lems with high-stakes stan­dard­ized assess­ments and explain­ing how to opt out one’s child from a stan­dard­ized test. Sev­er­al col­leagues and I began going to their forums to learn how to share the con­cept of opt­ing out with more parents.

Pre­vi­ous­ly with­in the Chica­go Teacher’s Union (CTU) and the social jus­tice cau­cus with­in the union, CORE (Cau­cus of Rank and File Edu­ca­tors), we had dis­cussed the many ways over-test­ing was dam­ag­ing edu­ca­tion but hadn’t spo­ken of con­crete steps and strate­gies to com­bat these tests as teach­ers. We brought More Than a Score’s fliers on over-test­ing and opt-out let­ter tem­plates to CORE’s month­ly meet­ing. CORE’s test­ing com­mit­tee also cre­at­ed a boy­cott checklist/​timeline that includ­ed the steps nec­es­sary to lead to a suc­cess­ful boy­cott and mas­sive opt-out of a test (see the checklist/​timeline on the fol­low­ing page).

Dur­ing this CORE meet­ing, the mem­bers of the CORE test­ing com­mit­tee pre­sent­ed a strat­e­gy to spread the opt-out move­ment to schools through­out the city. We explained that for a school to orga­nize for a teacher boy­cott, they must simul­ta­ne­ous­ly orga­nize a school-wide stu­dent opt-out cam­paign. CORE mem­bers brought thou­sands of let­ters to their own schools and near­by schools that had a grow­ing test­ing resis­tance movement.

At Sauce­do Acad­e­my, we host­ed our own infor­ma­tion ses­sions for par­ents on high-stakes test­ing and how to opt their chil­dren out before pass­ing out the opt-out infor­ma­tion. The par­ents were shocked by the num­ber of tests and the amount of instruc­tion­al time lost, which most schools rarely publicize.

Par­ents asked many ques­tions and were dis­turbed to learn the spring 2014 Illi­nois Stan­dards Achieve­ment Test (ISAT), which would take away one to two weeks of instruc­tion time, was already being phased out and was no longer even tied to the same high stakes of pro­mo­tion and school lev­el­ing for which it had been orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed. Fam­i­lies quick­ly embraced the idea of opt­ing out of this exam.

The most effec­tive strat­e­gy for edu­cat­ing par­ents on an issue is to have oth­er par­ents, rather than teach­ers, dis­cuss with them. Par­ents place the great­est trust in oth­er par­ents, espe­cial­ly par­ent lead­ers, because they know that they have the same inter­ests in mind. At our infor­ma­tion ses­sion, we iden­ti­fied a num­ber of par­ent lead­ers who were espe­cial­ly eager to take on the ISAT. Before long, these par­ents were lead­ing their own infor­ma­tion sessions.

Soon, stu­dents began to lead meet­ings as well, edu­cat­ing their par­ents and peers about high-stakes test­ing and the opt-out process. We con­tin­ued to have these ses­sions four to five times at var­i­ous loca­tions before and dur­ing the boy­cott. These ses­sions not only helped build toward the boy­cott but also con­tin­ued through the boy­cott itself, help­ing to cor­rect misinformation.

In addi­tion to group infor­ma­tion ses­sions, one-on-one meet­ings were impor­tant for build­ing sup­port around the idea of a boy­cott with fac­ul­ty. Dur­ing these meet­ings, I spoke with teach­ers before and after school, dur­ing lunch and in pass­ing about the opt-out move­ment nation­al­ly and local­ly, as well as the big pic­ture impli­ca­tions” of over-test­ing, such as the firing/​layoffs of qual­i­ty expe­ri­enced teach­ers, pub­lic school clo­sures, and the agen­da to pri­va­tize our school sys­tem. Sprin­kled in these dis­cus­sions was the word boy­cott.”

Up to this point, it was still too ear­ly to ful­ly dis­cuss a boy­cott of a test, but I want­ed to plant the seed in people’s minds, espe­cial­ly among some of the most respect­ed teacher-lead­ers in the school. Through our staffwide per­son­al email list­serv, I sent arti­cles on over-test­ing and issues with the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards and dates of infor­ma­tion­al ses­sions and pan­els led by orga­ni­za­tions, such as More Than a Score, against exces­sive test­ing and guid­ed par­ents and teach­ers on how to opt out children.

In Chica­go, unlike every oth­er school dis­trict but one in Illi­nois, the Board of Edu­ca­tion is appoint­ed by our may­or instead of being demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed by the res­i­dents of the dis­trict. May­or Rahm Emanuel’s board of edu­ca­tion has con­trolled the schools with an iron fist, lay­ing off expe­ri­enced teach­ers, slash­ing bud­gets and enforc­ing strict dis­ci­pline on teach­ers. Because of these con­di­tions, I knew that we had to have a tight strat­e­gy to opt out as many stu­dents as pos­si­ble in a short peri­od of time if we were going to be able to chal­lenge the mayor’s edu­ca­tion policy.

Two weeks before the ISAT was sup­posed to be admin­is­tered, I pre­pared a union meet­ing at Sauce­do to launch a mas­sive opt-out cam­paign. We made copies of the opt-out fly­er and tem­plate for each Sauce­do stu­dent from third through eighth grade. I knew the stakes were high for this effort — if CPS got wind of such a mas­sive opt-out oper­a­tion, they would try to swift­ly shut down all opt outs at our school and across the city.

At the union meet­ing, we had a dis­cus­sion about the impli­ca­tions and logis­tics of a mas­sive school­wide opt-out of the ISAT exam. One of the major obsta­cles to dis­sem­i­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about opt­ing out is polit­i­cal. We took pre­cau­tions to ensure that no teacher was pass­ing out polit­i­cal mate­ri­als” while on the clock. We were all to pass out the opt-out fliers and tem­plates before or after school by pick­ing up our class five min­utes ear­ly or drop­ping them off five min­utes late. The teach­ers told their stu­dents to return the opt-out let­ters to their home­room teach­ers rather than to the admin­is­tra­tion so that the admin­is­tra­tion wouldn’t catch wind of the campaign.

With the signed let­ters in their hands, teach­ers could make copies and turn them all in on the same day. This also pro­tect­ed the stu­dent in case the let­ter hap­pened to be lost” by administration.

Once the stu­dents received the let­ter tem­plates, opt­ing out spread like wildfire.

Almost the entire stu­dent body did not want to take this tedious stan­dard­ized test, so they urged their par­ents to opt them out. With­in a week, we had around 50 per­cent of the stu­dents at our own school opt­ing out of the ISAT exam. We set a date to turn all the opt-out let­ters in to the coun­selors. By then, the admin­is­tra­tion at Sauce­do already knew about it. At that point, they were not opposed to stu­dents opt­ing out because the CPS cen­tral office hadn’t threat­ened their careers and force-fed them lies about loss of school funding.

A week before the test, over half of our stu­dents were opt­ed out of the ISAT. This was a great start, but at this point the oth­er half of the school was still offi­cial­ly required to take the test. The miss­ing opt-out forms were unsigned in part because many par­ents work­ing mul­ti­ple jobs couldn’t attend an infor­ma­tion­al ses­sion and, there­fore, were prob­a­bly wary of sign­ing the opt-out papers for a test that their chil­dren had tak­en for years.

Because these stu­dents did not have signed forms to opt out of the ISAT, teacher lead­ers and I began to talk to teams more seri­ous­ly about boy­cotting the admin­is­tra­tion of the exam so that not a sin­gle stu­dent at our school would be sub­ject­ed to the test. In our pro­fes­sion­al opin­ions, the ISAT would pro­vide us with no infor­ma­tion that would inform our instruc­tion, robbed our stu­dents of two weeks of instruc­tion­al time, and belit­tled the intel­lects of our stu­dents, whose mul­ti­fac­eted skills can­not be mea­sured by the process of elim­i­nat­ing wrong answer choices.

We also believed that beyond Sauce­do, the test was not use­ful for stu­dents at any school, and we knew that with­out the atten­tion to the abus­es of high-stakes test­ing a teacher boy­cott would gen­er­ate, the opt-out move­ment would fail to spread to oth­er schools.

The only way to launch this dia­logue against over-test­ing and to strike a blow against the pri­va­ti­za­tion agen­da was to boy­cott the test. And that is exact­ly what we did.

On Tues­day, the week before the ISAT exam, a core group of Sauce­do teach­ers who want­ed to orga­nize the boy­cott sched­uled an impor­tant union meet­ing for Sauce­do teach­ers.” We chose a Tues­day because few­er peo­ple take off after school on Tues­days and we had four to five days before the test was sched­uled for the boy­cott to snow­ball to oth­er schools.

The key to hav­ing an effec­tive boy­cott vote is to ensure that all staff in the test­ing grades actu­al­ly attend the union meet­ing, which is a seri­ous hur­dle for many schools. The Chica­go Teach­ers Union strike in 2012 taught me that to achieve 100 per­cent atten­dance at a meet­ing of over­worked edu­ca­tors, it helps to have mul­ti­ple forms of adver­tis­ing and announce­ments — and serve food. We adver­tised the union meet­ing through our whole staff email list­serv, post­ed signs on the punch-out clock, placed notes in everyone’s mail­box­es, and called all the teach­ers through our staff phone tree. With the sup­port of our UNITE HERE! union broth­ers and sis­ters work­ing in the cafe­te­ria, we bought break­fast for everyone.

At the union meet­ing, we had every­one sign in so we could eas­i­ly see if there were miss­ing staff. Team mem­bers found oth­ers not in atten­dance and brought them to the meet­ing. The meet­ing began with teach­ers and CTU orga­niz­ers dis­cussing the boy­cott — both the ben­e­fits and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of severe con­se­quences such as dis­ci­pline or ter­mi­na­tion. We had a rich dis­cus­sion of the pros and cons among the teach­ers right up until the vote.

Before the boy­cott vote, we explained the paper bal­lot we would be using, with its three options: 1) Yes, I will teach rather than give the ISAT; 2) Yes, I will teach rather than give the ISAT if 75 per­cent of the staff votes yes; or 3) No, I will give the ISAT. Each staff mem­ber vot­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly and sub­mit­ted his or her bal­lot anony­mous­ly. We count­ed the bal­lots in front of the staff and 100 per­cent of the bal­lots were for boy­cotting the test!

The results blew me away. The room explod­ed with excite­ment and cheers. Although we had done so much to orga­nize for this moment, I had not known the amount of courage that we would find in that room. The Sauce­do staff had pledged to refuse to inflict harm on their stu­dents from these dra­con­ian tests.

Right after the meet­ing, my heart was pound­ing with excite­ment and ner­vous­ness antic­i­pat­ing the weeks to come. I imme­di­ate­ly con­tact­ed the CORE com­mu­ni­ca­tions team to set up a press con­fer­ence with a diverse group of teach­ers, stu­dents, and par­ents. After school, teach­ers, par­ents, and stu­dents con­verged for the press con­fer­ence. Sur­pris­ing­ly the main­stream media, which was often not in sup­port of teach­ers or the union, allowed us to share our sto­ry with­out any neg­a­tive spin. It was dif­fi­cult for them not to sup­port the boy­cott when teach­ers, par­ents, and stu­dents were all in agree­ment that stu­dents should be learn­ing, not being over-test­ed. From then on we were bom­bard­ed by the media almost every day — before and after school and dur­ing our lunch breaks — shar­ing our sto­ries of resis­tance and hope for bet­ter assessments.

The day after our announce­ment of the ISAT boy­cott, there was a com­plete shift in the administration’s atti­tude toward the teach­ers and the opt-out move­ment. Sud­den­ly, they did not sup­port stu­dents opt­ing out nor did they sup­port the teach­ers’ stand. CPS offi­cials met with admin­is­tra­tion and threat­ened their careers unless they fixed” the sit­u­a­tion. The CPS cen­tral office sent an email to all employ­ees stat­ing that we would be dis­ci­plined, fired or pos­si­bly lose our teach­ing licens­es for our actions if we went ahead with the boy­cott. We had expect­ed threats of ter­mi­na­tion but not the extreme threat of remov­ing our teach­ing licenses.

The threats became more real at Sauce­do when mem­bers of the admin­is­tra­tion went to every teacher one by one when they were alone in their rooms and told us, You will lose your job if you boy­cott,” You will be replaced,” or You will be dis­ci­plined.” Due to this intense pres­sure, we held meet­ings almost every day with mul­ti­ple peo­ple from the union offices, such as CTU lawyers, orga­niz­ers, the head of the griev­ance depart­ment, our field rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the head of staff, and the offi­cers, includ­ing CTU pres­i­dent Karen Lewis.

Not con­tent with bul­ly­ing teach­ers, CPS soon began attack­ing our parents.

Admin­is­tra­tion mem­bers called par­ents every day, host­ed what we called mis-infor­ma­tion” ses­sions, held one-on-one con­fer­ences with par­ents, and sent home let­ters to con­vince par­ents to opt their child back in to take the ISAT. The admin­is­tra­tion regur­gi­tat­ed lies that CPS fed them about our school los­ing fund­ing, which could lead to los­ing our renowned band program.

We com­bat­ed these scare tac­tics by hav­ing par­ents, retirees, and oth­er sup­port­ers pass out dai­ly fliers with the cor­rect infor­ma­tion: ISAT scores are not con­nect­ed to fund­ing, Title 1 fund­ing is not con­nect­ed to ISAT scores, our music pro­gram is not con­nect­ed to ISAT scores, ISAT has no bear­ing on selec­tive enroll­ment entry, lev­el­ing of the school, or stu­dent grade promotion.

Par­ents and teach­ers weren’t the only ones under siege; stu­dents were also bom­bard­ed. The CPS cen­tral office announced that all stu­dents, whether they were opt­ed out or not, must be giv­en the test book­let. These actions were intend­ed to get stu­dents to reverse their (or their family’s) deci­sion and take the test.

To coun­ter­act these absurd rules, sup­port­ers passed out stu­dents, know your rights” cards that explained their right to refuse the exam. These cards proved to be extreme­ly effective.

Some stu­dents in rooms that had all opt­ed out were told, Your par­ents changed their minds, they opt­ed you back in. You need to take the exam.” Stu­dents yelled back at admin­is­tra­tion, That’s not true! He’s lying,” or We refuse!” Stu­dents were the vic­tors since the admin­is­tra­tion could not force chil­dren to take the test.

Yet it was not all vic­to­ries, and some bat­tles were lost in the over-test­ing war. Due to the scare tac­tics of CPS and the admin­is­tra­tion, some teach­ers over­turned their deci­sion to boy­cott the test. Every day lead­ing up to the test, we uti­lized our phone tree to let teach­ers voice their con­cerns, sup­port them with expres­sions of sol­i­dar­i­ty, and gauge their lev­els of sup­port for the boycott.

Dur­ing these calls, we ranked boy­cotters from low to mod­er­ate to strong lev­els of sup­port for the boy­cott. We split the list of low-to-mod­er­ate boy­cotters among union offi­cers and lead­ers to call for one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions. Many had long dis­cus­sions with teach­ers, calm­ing their con­cerns and express­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of their actions.

The day before the ISAT was to be admin­is­tered, we held a final boy­cott count by call­ing each teacher to ask them direct­ly if they still chose to teach rather than give the test. A num­ber of teach­ers dropped out, but twen­ty-five stayed strong. A group of non-tenured teach­ers — the most vul­ner­a­ble edu­ca­tors among us, who could be ter­mi­nat­ed with­out cause — met with admin­is­tra­tion and stat­ed that they refused to give the test to stu­dents who had opt­ed out but would give the test to non-opt-out stu­dents. The admin­is­tra­tion agreed to their demands. This was a moment of extreme brav­ery for our non­tenure teach­ers because they could be non-renewed” with the click of a but­ton and risked los­ing their jobs the fol­low­ing year.

Our move­ment received the joy­ous news the week before the ISATs that anoth­er school, Drum­mond Thomas Montes­sori School, had announced their own boy­cott of the ISAT. They had a hand­ful of boy­cotting teach­ers and a large per­cent­age of stu­dents opt­ed out of the ISAT.

It’s impor­tant to note that CPS’s oppres­sive tac­tics to opt in stu­dents at my school were not applied at Drum­mond. Drum­mond has a large per­cent­age of white, mid­dle- to upper­class fam­i­lies. CPS’s opt-in cam­paigns were only uti­lized in schools with high pop­u­la­tions of brown or black stu­dents. We had seen these racist attacks occur in the past when 90 per­cent of the school clos­ings and actions were in schools with a major­i­ty black population.

Although Drum­mond stu­dents were not harassed to opt back in to take the ISAT, CPS had oth­er severe and reac­tionary actions for Drum­mond. CPS sent legal inves­ti­ga­tors to Drum­mond to inter­ro­gate chil­dren as young as eight years old to manip­u­la­tive them into telling on” their teach­ers so CPS could dis­ci­pline them in the future. Enraged Drum­mond par­ents, many of them lawyers them­selves, stormed the school’s office to stop the inves­ti­ga­tions, declar­ing the ille­gal­i­ty of inter­ro­gat­ing their chil­dren with­out parental consent.

After hear­ing about Drummond’s inter­ro­ga­tions in the media, the Sauce­do staff pre­pared for inter­ro­ga­tions. The minute we found out that inter­ro­ga­tions of stu­dents and teach­ers were tak­ing place at our own school, we con­tact­ed par­ents by phone, mass text and email. Par­ents flood­ed the phone lines and stormed the office, demand­ing that the school not inter­ro­gate their chil­dren. Stu­dent inter­ro­ga­tions end­ed as quick­ly as they had begun, but inten­sive teacher inter­ro­ga­tions con­tin­ued for the rest of the day.

The inter­roga­tors tried to scare teach­ers into nam­ing oth­er teach­ers lead­ing the opt-out move­ment. They asked one of my col­leagues, Was this led by a Ms. Lam­bers [mean­ing Ms. Cham­bers, my name]?” They used this strat­e­gy to get teach­ers to cor­rect the absurd name they cre­at­ed, and say that Ms. Cham­bers” led the cam­paign. This mali­cious treat­ment of staff con­tin­ued dur­ing ISAT week and was more than we could have ever anticipated.

Walk­ing into Sauce­do on the first day of test­ing remind­ed me of the scenes from Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, dur­ing inte­gra­tion bat­tles. There was secu­ri­ty every­where and unknown indi­vid­u­als from CPS cen­tral and net­work offices. They were extreme­ly rude to teach­ers, stu­dents, and admin­is­tra­tion, often yelling at them and slam­ming doors.

Dur­ing the ISAT days, teach­ers were giv­en a sheet with rooms list­ed as opt-out rooms and test­ing rooms with teach­ers’ or staff mem­bers’ names attached to a room num­ber. Many of the boy­cotting teach­ers did not have their names attached to any room and were not giv­en direc­tions about what their duties were sup­posed to be. Many of the boy­cotting teach­ers had a major­i­ty or 100 per­cent of their stu­dents opt­ed out, yet CPS did not allow them to teach their own stu­dents dur­ing test­ing time. CPS staffers mon­i­tored many of the opt-out rooms and had the stu­dents sit silent­ly for hours, not pro­vid­ing any instruc­tion. CPS want­ed to fur­ther demor­al­ize boy­cotters and send a mes­sage that stu­dents who do not take the test can­not receive more instruction.

On the first day of test­ing, CPS even refused to give break­fast to many of the stu­dents in opt-out rooms. After a media blitz on this inhu­mane treat­ment, they pro­vid­ed break­fast to the stu­dents, but some stu­dents did not have uten­sils and had to eat with their hands. Oth­er stu­dents were packed in rooms with between fifty to six­ty oth­er stu­dents and were forced to eat on the floor due to the lack of chairs and desks.

This abuse was not only forced upon gen­er­al edu­ca­tion stu­dents but also on stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties. I am a spe­cial edu­ca­tion teacher and all of my stu­dents opt­ed out. I was only allowed to be with two of my stu­dents with cog­ni­tive delays; the rest of my stu­dents were placed in large class­rooms with teach­ers with­out spe­cial edu­ca­tion certification.

After a cou­ple days, they sched­uled one of my Span­ish-speak­ing stu­dents with a cog­ni­tive delay to be relo­cat­ed to a room with a teacher who was not cer­ti­fied to pro­vide spe­cial­ized ser­vices and did not speak any Span­ish. Furi­ous, I buzzed the office and blurt­ed out, My stu­dent is not with me and has pull­out spe­cial edu­ca­tion min­utes. He is cur­rent­ly not being pro­vid­ed his pull­out min­utes, which are in his legal indi­vid­u­al­ized edu­ca­tion plan. His moth­er will not be hap­py when she hears this. I strong­ly rec­om­mend you return him to my class­room immediately.”

With­in min­utes, he was returned to my class­room, where I was able to teach him for the entire­ty of the test­ing weeks. In my own class­room dur­ing the boy­cott, I imme­di­ate­ly felt a sense of free­dom in my instruc­tion and cur­ricu­lum. I felt like I could ful­ly teach in a way that I was pas­sion­ate about. My shack­les were off. They had already threat­ened to remove my teach­ing license, what more could they do to me?

Where teach­ers had opt-out class­rooms, they told me, they taught won­der­ful lessons of oth­er resisters and activists in his­to­ry, such as Gand­hi and Rosa Parks. The stu­dents relat­ed these activists’ civ­il dis­obe­di­ence to our act of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence in boy­cotting the test. These stu­dents were engaged in learn­ing instead of stress­ing over a stan­dard­ized exam.

Dur­ing this time, the sup­port from around the coun­try also kept our spir­its high. For mul­ti­ple days through­out the boy­cott, we received lunch and desserts with let­ters of sup­port from across the city — from par­ents, teach­ers and oth­ers in sol­i­dar­i­ty with our boy­cott. Each boy­cotting teacher received a vase with a note thank­ing us and telling us to stay strong. Every sin­gle day, for weeks, we received let­ters, union res­o­lu­tions, blog posts, and media sup­port from all over the world, includ­ing a let­ter from Diane Rav­itch, an all-staff pic­ture from Garfield High School in Seat­tle, which had led a suc­cess­ful boy­cott of their own against the MAP test, hold­ing a sign that read Ice the ISAT!” and a res­o­lu­tion of sup­port by the entire Chica­go Fed­er­a­tion of Labor. This ubiq­ui­tous sup­port kept us strong until the end.

Large­ly because of the over­whelm­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty, no dis­ci­pli­nary mea­sures have been tak­en against any of the boy­cotting teach­ers. Yet while we stayed strong, CPS’s threats pre­vent­ed more schools from join­ing the ISAT boycott.

Our act of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence did not spread to schools oth­er than Drum­mond, but through our orga­niz­ing efforts and press con­fer­ences, our mes­sage spread through­out the nation, our sto­ry even reach­ing Nation­al Pub­lic Radio and the Wall Street Jour­nal. Our actions have spurred a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of dis­cus­sions around Chica­go and the nation about the detri­men­tal effects of over-test­ing our students.

These boy­cotts and the opt-out move­ment will only spread in the com­ing years. This year, I did not have to see a stu­dent pull out his eye­lash­es, anguished with the bur­den of a high-stakes exam. This is the first year that a stu­dent did not cry in my class from the stress of stan­dard­ized testing.

To all the teach­ers read­ing this, you won’t tru­ly feel free as an edu­ca­tor until you stand up uncon­di­tion­al­ly for your stu­dents and boy­cott the test.

Sarah Cham­bers is a spe­cial edu­ca­tion teacher at Sauce­do Ele­men­tary School in Chicago.
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