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Chicago Public Schools Tue Feb 05 2013

Mr. Stieber, Protests aren't on the MAP Test!

By David Stieber

Last week my high school students decided, on their own, to have a protest. They were upset about how cold our building has been this relatively mild winter. So after first period many of the students put hoodies and sweaters over their short sleeve uniform polo (which is a violation of the dress code) and marched loudly into the hall. They had signs, some had chants, and one even had an American flag. These 16- and 17-year-old Englewood students were organized. Their downfall was they didn't fully think through how to explain this plan to the 9th grade students, who just thought the protest was fun and were running around getting into trouble instead of helping the cause.

Security, teachers and administration intervened, the kids stopped the protest and went back to class. A few kids got in trouble. Being a history teacher, I was impressed by the students planning, but I realized they needed help understanding the purpose of a protest and steps involved in order to get what they wanted, without having to protest. So I did a mini-lesson the rest of the day that included discussing the following steps.

1. Do your research. (Is it cold in every room or just some?)
2. Get leaders. (Who can help organize and be a spokesperson?)
3. What are your demands? (We want it warmer, etc.)
4. Make other students aware of the issue.
5. Make sure you are organized and everyone understands the demands.
6. Ask for a meeting with the principal. Talk about what can be done.
7. Wait to see if your demands are met. If your demands are met, you win!!
8. If the demands are not met, discuss options and consequences.
9. If a protest is selected, make it organized and focused.

While I was teaching this lesson my students said things like, "Mr. Stieber you are going to get in trouble for teaching us this." or "You made this lesson just for us?!" or "Mr. Stieber are you allowed to teach us this?" My goal was to help them to understand that while protests can seem fun, the point is to use mass protest only when working within the system fails to bring about the change they seek. In this case, the students wanted the building to be warmer or to wear long sleeve shirts over (not under, like the uniform policy dictates) their uniform polos.

Later that day, our principal met with some of the protest leaders and the student council to work out a compromise that made all the kids happy.

Discussion and protest are the foundations of democracy and they keep it vibrant and strong. Thankfully my Englewood students are proud, educated and confident enough to stand up for change, if necessary, through protest. These students are setting a precedent for what types of people our children will become. These teenagers who respect and understand democracy also understand the power that rests in that system. As do the Seattle teachers who took the first stand against and are leading the way in the MAP test protests. These "standardized tests" are forced on schools by their districts and/or state governments, as a means "to evaluate student progress and teacher effectiveness". The tests have nothing to do with college. In Chicago, no one outside the school district even sees the data. In Chicago these MAP tests are commonly referred to as "optional" quarterly and interim assessments, but in reality CPS forces schools to administer these tests.

Teachers are all for testing and evaluation. We assess our students every day with meaningful activities that are current, effective, connected, diverse and relevant. We fully realize that progress is important for educational achievement but we also realize that students are not mass-produced widgets that can be measured by "standardized" metrics. As teachers we are morally bound to always ask, "Is this helping my students?", and if not, what should be done differently?

Educators all across the country have been saying for years that these tests are a waste of educational time. The tests are often flawed, they are expensive for the district, and they decrease the students' desire to attend school. Teachers are well aware of their students' performance and they continually assess and use their own data when planning lessons and units. These MAP tests replace more than seven days of actual teaching for the students per year. That's seven days and significant financial resources lost to mind-numbing and educationally irrelevant tests.

As Chicago teachers likely start to boycott the MAP tests and school parents start to have their children opt out of this unnecessary testing, teachers will once again need your help as community members. I hope the mini-lesson that I taught my students about effective protesting will inspire you to take action with us (should it come to that).


Dave Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He recently earned his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Sarah / February 6, 2013 10:36 PM

So what you're saying is that you don't want the children to be tested, in case the test scores are POOR. If the scores are as low as you think they'll be, your job may be in jeopardy; is that right? Teachers want to do less and less work for more and more pay. It doesn't seem fair that the children come out on the short end of the stick every single time. If teachers really DID care about the children, they would decide to cut pay and benefits instead of cutting programs, now wouldn't they? Have I made you angry yet? Are you upset that someone has seen through what is going on? I'm imagining what fallacies you might respond to this comment with. What might you say in response? I will wait for an answer, but I won't hold my breath for an intelligent one.

Brett Banditelli / February 6, 2013 10:53 PM

No please, hold your breath.

Leiram / February 7, 2013 3:24 PM

As a CPS teacher myself, I will go ahead and respond to Sarah's comment.

What we are concerned about in case of standardized testing is HOW POORLY it measures student knowledge. It is not fair to ANYONE, particularly not to my ESL/SPED students, to make the bar a specific number that every student has to achieve. Instead, we would like testing to be about GROWTH--measuring how much a student has learned in any given year. My students are overtested by the district and the data is not always helpful or even forthcoming for teachers. I have seen growth and learning in my students when they write essays, but multiple-choice exams do not always reflect the learning that is happening in our classrooms.

Moreover, let's talk about money for a second: I am in my second year of teaching and I barely clear a $1000 every two weeks, which means I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck so I can pay for my rent and student loans and other expenses. I will actually be teaching night school to make ends meet. But it's not about the money for me--it's about my students. That you would assume otherwise because I disagree with CPS policy is insulting and unnecessary. So please inform yourself before making comments--oh, and go thank a teacher for the fact that you could read this at all. He or she will probably be at home, working, because our job never ends.

Michael Shea / February 8, 2013 2:52 PM

Pay attention, Sarah.

CPS has a $300 million dollar surplus in this years budget.

$300 million.

If teachers cared they "would decide to cut pay and benefits instead of cutting programs, now wouldn't they?"

To answer your question: No. They would not. Not for a system that neither they nor the students, nor the parents can trust.

Also, these tests Mr. Stieber refers to are not new. They have been her since NCLB was passed. Teachers have not been able to hide for a LONG time. Notice any dramatic educational progress? After NYC published teacher average test scores and rank? After LA did the same?

There is finally momentum to counteract big business testing trolls, like you Sarah, and push for education policy that is sensible, productive and healthy.

Reform we have not achieved partly thanks to vocal circumstantial experts like you, Sarah.

Read into testing.

Read up on recent news surrounding UNO and other corrupt charter school networks.

Read up on the billion dollar business of testing children.

Then re-read your comment above.

adam / February 9, 2013 10:34 AM

Yes Sarah, because as we all know, teachers go into the profession to become wealthy.

karen morby / February 20, 2013 9:51 AM

please listen to the two part This American Life episodes on WBEZ radio. This amazing look inside a Chicago hihg school will change the way you see violence, teachers, education forever. It is a MUST hear

Karen morby / February 20, 2013 9:53 AM

OOps, perhaps they can cure my dyslexic typing, too?

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