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Susan Here's Why Opting Out Doesn't Solve the Real Problem

Ohanian Comment:Of course I advocate opting out of Common Core and other high stakes tests, but the letter below shows why this helps only marginally: Test prep eats the curriculum. To keep a kid out of test prep you'd have to keep him out of school for a few months.

Note to reader: Whitney Young High School is a selective admissions public school, meaning only top-ranked students go there.

by George Schmidt

Dear teacher of Sam Schmidt...

When I was first told by my son Sam that his class will not be reading and enjoying "Romeo and Juliet" because they have to spend the rest of their month on test prep and testing, I was outraged. OUTRAGED.

As Sam's performance in school and on those few tests he has taken shows, it is far better -- FAR BETTER -- for the children to be reading, discussing, learning from and enjoying works of literature instead of doing mindless "test prep" materials. Bubble sheets and similar nonsense are the opposite of learning. While there may be some pressure on classroom teachers to show "performance" on so-called "standardized" tests, there are also thousands of teachers across Chicago and the USA right now who are refusing to have their work with real children hijacked by these mindless exercises in corporate control.

Next year, Sam will be attending Whitney Young High School, thanks to the fact that during his wonderful eight years at O.A. Thorp he read real books, rather than did mindless so-called "standardized" tests and even more mindless test prep. During those years, some Thorp people insisted that the test (as in THE TEST) had to be the one big test (AS IN THE ONE BIG TEST).

But if you look back over all those years, you have to ask why, if these tests are some valid, reliable and fair measure, they have been changed every year. EVERY YEAR!

Two years ago, the Chicago Board of Education (and the now discredited CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett) were bragging about how everything went "up" (as in UP) on the ISAT tests. That, according to them, was proof that they were improving the schools.

Then, last year, everyone learned that the ISAT would be eliminated. What happened? Was all that time on the ISAT a big waste of time and teacher and child energy.

The answer is yes. (As in YES).

This year, the big push is on the PARCC. But we already know, based on what is being done in Washington, D.C., that by next year the PARCC (and the silly "Common Core" on which PARCC and "Smarter Balanced..." are based) will disappear into the same mists that now hold the ISAT (and before those, the IGAP, the CORE, the ITBS, and all the other so-called "standardized" tests that have bullied teachers, children, and the public since we began tracking these impositions long before Sam Schmidt entered school).

Please do two things:

Teach the children "Romeo and Juliet."

Stop forcing them to ingest test prep until they puke.

As a parent, a teacher, and someone who taught Shakespeare's plays over a 28 year teaching career, I'll even share some of my "Romeo and Juliet" lesson plans with you if you need help with that.

However, to deprive my child and his classmates of Shakespeare for test prep is a disappointment, and I like to think of my colleagues in the Chicago Teachers Union as better in every way than that...

George N. Schmidt, parent of Sam Schmidt and long-term activist, member of the Chicago Teachers Union Testing Committee and CTU House of Delegates (now as a retiree delegate).

P.S. As you can see, I've shared this note with others, including two nationally recognized experts on reading instruction (Susan Ohanian and Stephen Krashen), both of whom are friends. If you want some insights into why your decision to focus on test prep is wrong not only from the point of view of one parent, but in the broader world of education theory and practice, I urge you to contact both of them, or at least to read their books (they have published more than 30 in total between them, all worth the time).

— George Schmidt
April 16, 2015

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Susan Ohanian

Susan Ohanian, a long-time public school teacher, is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic, Parents, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Phi Del...