September 23, 2002
Mr. Arne Duncan:
For the past several years, the Chicago Board of Education has mandated the administration of the Chicago Academic Standards Exam for all freshman and sophomore students in the core subject areas. For the past two years, teachers have been required to count the results of this exam as ten percent of the tested students’ final grades. The CASE was created and implemented to hold teachers accountable for basing instruction on the Chicago Academic Standards toward the end of helping students acquire the skills detailed in the standards. As teachers in the Chicago Public School system, we are very concerned about this exam.
Our primary concern is that the CASE does not reflect the standards for which it was designed, particularly in the subjects of English and Social Studies. Using the Illinois State Goals as a foundation, the creators of the Chicago Academic Standards detailed their standards and framework statements to promote the idea that students do not only need to acquire basic skills such as recall and memorization, but also higher order thinking skills, including inference, synthesis, and analysis. The CASE, however, only evaluates students on recall and simple comprehension skills. In fact, the majority of the standards detailed in the Chicago Academic Standards are not assessed by this exam.
Furthermore, this fall, the Board of Education has mandated the implementation of the Chicago Reading Initiative (CRI). This initiative is designed to engage teachers in effective reading instruction across the curriculum. This model of reading instruction, developed by Tim Shanahan at UIC, requires teachers to implement strategies designed to develop student reading fluency, word knowledge, reading comprehension, and writing. The CASE, as it is currently written, does not accurately reflect the objectives of the CRI.
Another major concern is that the test, particularly in the English and Social Studies sections, includes many poorly constructed and often inaccurate test questions and answer choices. The text selections on the English exam are often at a higher reading level than is expected of the grade being tested. As a result, students are not able to complete reading in the allotted time thereby significantly reducing test validity. In addition, the test does not truly test students’ skills. Text selections sometimes reflect a major work taught by teachers. Therefore, the test reflects familiarity with texts and prior knowledge rather than the skills those students have acquired. Also, since some teachers do not teach the works reflected in the CASE text selections, there is no equity in students’ ability to achieve good results on the test. The rubrics use such imprecise and vague language that establishing any norm for inter-rater reliability is impossible. In addition, the English rubric only assesses one mode of writing, yet often the extended constructed response prompts do not ask for the mode of writing assessed by the rubric.
The results of the exam, while they must be counted towards the students’ grades, are not used for any discernable purpose outside of the classroom. While the CASE is designed to measure teacher accountability, the results mean nothing, not only in terms of the test’s lack of validity, but also because they are not used to assess instructional practices or to see whether students are really up to the standards.
Teachers and department chairs have voiced their dissatisfaction with the exam for several years, yet have met with no recourse or avenue for change. Dissatisfaction with and knowledge of the test’s flaws leads to an environment of teacher frustration and erodes teacher professionalism. Additionally, this test compromises the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards in regards to assessment.
The CASE also results in a waste of instructional time. Eight days of instruction each year are sacrificed to administer this test alone. This seems particularly wasteful when the results of the CASE are flawed and not used for any discernable purpose. The implied pressure of this test on teachers, partly due to the fact that students’ grades must be affected by it, often results in more instructional time being given over to test preparation alone. Moreover, since it is a system-wide exam with portions of the test needing to be scored at a central location, the exams are administered two to three weeks before the end of the semester. This practice results in dramatic absentee rates among students the last weeks of each semester. In total the amount of lost instructional time is at least four weeks each year.
Ultimately, the CASE hurts instruction, the very thing that the creators behind it wish to promote. Unlike other exams which allow students to demonstrate what they have learned, the CASE pushes students into an evaluation of what they have not covered. Teachers search to fill in the basic knowledge gaps of their students with small facts or definitions they believe might be on the exam instead of focusing on developed understanding of concepts, something expected in the Chicago Academic Standards. Not only does it force teachers to rush superficial instruction, but it eliminates most opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration and thematic planning.
Due to the above reasons, we will not be administering the CASE this year. At the end of the semester, we will be administering final exams appropriate to our curriculum and based on the Illinois State Goals and Chicago Academic Standards. We hope to find other schools to follow our lead. If you would like to get in touch with us, please respond by October 4, 2002.
Curie Teachers for Authentic Assessment
Mr. Martin W. McGreal
Mr. Daniel F. McGinn
Mr. Michael R. Smith
Ms. Katherine K. Hogan
Ms. Sandra Meyer
Ms. Sara S. Spachman
Ms. Lori S. Huebner
Mr. Eric J. Norton
Ms. Vera L. Wallace
Mr. Chad E. Kellerman
Ms. Umbree F. Qadeer
Mr. William A. Watson Jr.