Following an impassioned exchange of words at a recent Chicago Public Schools board meeting, CEO Ron Huberman agreed to meet with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to discuss concerns over the amount of mandatory testing conducted in Chicago’s schools.
“This excessive regime is boring our kids,” Lewis told Huberman, referencing the 23 required assessment tests administered to students throughout the 170-day school year. “This mind-numbing load on teachers and administrators is sucking the souls out of our schools.”
“A teacher that is not engaged is what sucks the life out of our schools,” replied Huberman. “The testing wouldn’t even add up to two days.”
Lewis said the tests are resulting in a “loss of collaborative spirit” among teachers and students, and that their continued use “only hurt and maim people.”
Huberman replied that the tests are “meant to empower teachers” by providing insight on each child’s strengths and weaknesses. The test results allow teachers to adjust homework assignments accordingly, thereby “improving collaboration,” he said.
After several minutes of argument during which the two interrupted each other mid-sentence, CPS President Mary B. Richardson-Lowry intervened, suggesting that they find a time to discuss possible solutions and bring them back to the board for future discussion.
“I trust the two of you can do that,” she said.
Although Huberman insisted the tests are necessary to ensure a quality education, some experts disagree.
Dr. Donald R. Moore, founder and executive director of Designs for Change, a 33-year-old organization dedicated to researching and developing reforms for urban schools, says there are basic flaws in Chicago’s use of standardized tests.
Moore said the steadily increasing number of required tests in Chicago’s public schools take so much class time to prepare and administer that teachers are pressured to teach what is on the test rather than focus on a curriculum resulting in lasting educational success.
“It limits the flexibility and creativity of teachers,” said Moore. “We found the more they obsess about the test, the less we find long-term achievement among students’ grades.”
Not all teachers agree with Lewis and Moore, however.
Rashida Restaino, a middle-school teacher at Providence Prep in Englewood for the last five years, said incorporating standardized questions into homework assignments has proven successful with her students. It teaches them study habits, critical thinking, reading comprehension and data analysis skills necessary to do well on both the tests and in class, she said.
“It might be more work on you as a teacher taking the time to generate these kinds of assignments,” said Restaino. “But it’s going to benefit the kids in the long run, and if you aren’t in it for the kids, you might as well consider a different career.”
CPS spokesman Frank Shufpan said the follow-up meeting between Huberman and Lewis is pending based on both of their schedules.
“They’re obviously both very busy people,” he said.