Dist. 93 against giving tests to kids still learning English
A DuPage County school district could be the first in Illinois -- and perhaps the nation -- to refuse to administer mandatory state exams to students who haven't yet mastered English.
The boycott by Carol Stream Elementary District 93 would be an act of civil disobedience against the state's decision to force English learners to take the same tests as their fluent peers.
Nearly 10 percent of the district's 4,300 students were categorized as having limited English skills in 2007.
The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that all public schools annually test all students in select grades.
District 93 officials say they're willing to break the law this spring to shield students from the frustration and humiliation of taking an exam not designed for them.
"The board believes it's appropriate to do that," District 93 Superintendent Henry Gmitro said. "While there may be consequences for the adults in the organization, we shouldn't ask kids to be tested on things they haven't been taught."
Illinois dropped the test that was designed for English learners this fall, after the U.S. Department of Education made a final ruling that the test wasn't an adequate measure of state learning standards. The old test was written in simpler English.
As a stopgap measure, English learners will take standard assessments with some special accommodations, such as extended time and audio recordings, while Illinois develops a test that will meet federal guidelines.
Politicians and educators throughout Illinois have aggressively opposed the move, predicting it will cause districts to fail and face serious sanctions under the federal accountability law.
A group of Chicago parents plans to keep their children home during the March testing, while local school officials have petitioned state lawmakers for a one-year reprieve for English learners. And, some other superintendents say they also would consider a boycott.
But District 93 administrators are the first school employees to say publicly they will not administer the test to some students, Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Matthew Vanover said.
Indeed, the district could be the first in the nation to mount this type of challenge, though others have rejected federal money in order to opt out of the high-stakes tests.
A Wisconsin teacher made national news last year when he protested the emphasis the law places on standardized testing by refusing to administer the exams -- for a single day. Threatened with termination, he proctored the exams the second day.
"The frustration is widespread, but this action is unique, to the best of my knowledge," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
Schaeffer said his group supports parents, students and educators who take such stands, but does not push them to do so because of the risks.
Vanover said he couldn't speculate on what penalties the state might hand down.
"We would encourage them to move forward with the testing and give these students an opportunity to share what they have learned," Vanover said. "And once those students have done that to best of their ability, the test should end."
Though the law says the test must be administered, it doesn't stipulate that students must finish the test.
U.S. Department of Education spokesman Chad Colby said a boycott could jeopardize the district's federal funding. And, he said, it would undermine the law's intent, which is to hold schools accountable for what students learn.
District 93 received about $631,000 from federal sources during the 2005-06 school year, slightly more than 1 percent of its total revenue.
Other suburban school officials said they would consider a boycott as they continue to weigh their options.
The Marquardt Elementary District 15 school board in Glendale Heights has authorized Superintendent Loren May to make the final decision on whether to administer the tests.
"There's no clear pathway on what may or may not happen," May said. "It's about making a decision about what's best for the children."