New series: Emails from CPS teachers on the Culture of Testing

We receive a lot of emails from teachers about the culture of testing at our schools. We'll be sharing some of them anonymously. Anyone who would like to share, please email us at


At my school, students who are just below the "meets" or "exceeds category on ISATs are invited to attend free Saturday test prep classes. The goal is to boost pick the kids closest to moving up a category so that we can make the school look good.

For what it's worth; I think my school IS good, doing a pretty decent job educating 1,400 or so low-income, mostly bilingual students.

However, it seems horribly unfair to offer extra help to a select group of students. Why not everyone?

I'm told by the Literacy Coordinator at a nearby school that this is a network directive. Certainly my principal (young, green, kindhearted) is trying to do what he can to keep in the good graces of CPS central and to avoid throwing us all into the hands of the lurking UNO honchos.

Overall, having taught in a more affluent school and at my current high-poverty school, I can say that the negative effects of excessive testing are FAR worse at low income schools. Better performing schools are less worried about test scores and thus can do less test prep. My school administration is VERY worried about test scores and there is HUGE pressure to ensure that students do well. All teachers are expected to cover the Buckle Down test prep books in their entirety -- 180 pages, more or less. Novel study and hands-on science experiments go out the window for the month of February (if not before) as everyone focuses on multiple-choice tests. Instead of meaningful writing assignments, we teach only formulaic "extended response," a type of writing students will NEVER be asked to do once they are done with ISATs.

My students are HUGELY damaged by this. Few of them have every learned how to choose, read and respond independently to books or other reading material. They don't see reading modeled at home and they only read what is assigned. They know little about the city around them, current events or the educational controversies that so directly affect their lives.

They need a relevant curriculum that engages and informs them in equal measure. They need to experience the joy of reading and learn how to recreate that joy by reading on their own. Test prep is the absolute polar opposite of what they need. It is neither relevant OR engaging. It turns them off of reading and school.

My students fall in to a category many call "at risk." They are at risk for drug use, gang activity, teen parenthood and dropping out of high school. Even if they make it through high school, many will not have the skills they need to succeed in college. High stakes testing does nothing to address the challenges they face, and leads narrows the curriculum to the extent that it deprives them of the quality education they so need.