Last week, every public high school junior in Illinois sat for the state’s high stakes testing. The Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE as us teachers lovingly call it, is a two day test . On the first day, students take the ACT — every student takes this, whether they plan on going to college or not — and on the second day, they take the WorkKeys test, which is supposed to show how ready students are to enter the workplace.
It’s no secret that teachers and students have long known that standardized tests are not accurate measures of student achievement. I’m starting to think that many education reformers are catching on to this, as well, but for lack of a better way to assess student learning, it is, for now, a necessary evil. However, using standardized tests as one measure of student achievement is one thing; using it to determine which schools are allowed to remain open and which are doomed for closure is another, which is just what Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett did.
There have, of course, been protests to these school closings, but one of the most poignant ones came last Wednesday, when more than†100 students walked out of the second day of the PSAE test to protest both standardized testing, and its link to CPS school closings.
The protest was organized by a†student-led coalition called Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools. According to Colorlines:
CSOSOS argues that the planned closure of public schools will destabilize neighborhood communities. Many have pointed out that the planned closures are†overwhelmingly concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods, and thus that the supposed reforms have a disproportionate impact on students of color. Whatís more, CSOSOS and other testing critics argue that the test-driven metrics that are a central part of the move to siphon students away from neighborhood schools are an inaccurate and extremely narrow way of gauging a schoolís health.
This protest was a much-needed one, but what separated it from others in the past is that this was almost wholly made up of students. In an interview with Chicago CBS, Lindblom High School senior†Alexssa More said, “Today we are boycotting the second day of PSAE to show that standardized testing should not decide the future of our schools and students.”
In Illinois, students have to sit for both days of the PSAE test or they risk not graduating. These students not only faced disciplinary action to make sure their voices were heard, but they also risk having to retake the test, and some may not graduate due to their incomplete exams.†Organizing and following through with this kind of protest takes a lot of courage, something which these high school students definitely do not lack.
As a high school teacher, I know students often show bravery far beyond what is expected of them, and this protest is no exception. Knowing how the public — teachers and school administrators included — feel about standardized tests and school closures in Chicago, I know that these young adults are making their community proud.
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