Students opt out of CPS tests

For more than a year, my husband George Schmidt and I have been opting out our son Sam from the Chicago public schools’ excessive testing program. Any student may opt out of the Scantron Performance Series tests, Learning First math and reading benchmark tests, KLT tests and other CPS tests.

[img=3138]According to a March 25, 2010, letter sent to us by Barbara Eason Watkins (then Chief Education Officer), parents have the right to opt out their children. At the close of the two-page letter — which covered testing schedules, availability of copies of tests, rubrics and scoring materials, information on the Scantron Performance Series, validity, reliability and fairness studies — Eason Watkins addressed the issue of opting out. “Parents are not required to sign releases for their children to participate in any assessment,” Eason Watkins wrote. “If parents choose to exclude their children, the school has no obligation to provide an alternate activity. Your child will be asked to engage in a silent, self-guided activity.”

Copies of the letter are available in the article "How to Opt Out." See§ion=Article

Logistics of opting out

We kept Sam at home during administration of the Scantron Performance Series in February 2010 prior to receiving the letter. Eason Watkin’s letter confirmed to us and to the principal that it is within our rights to opt out of testing and have our child remain at school during the tests.

Sam, who is now in the fourth grade at O. A. Thorp elementary school, now sits in the school office instead of taking tests. At the time he began sitting out the tests, he was in third grade.

We opted out Sam from the three-part May 2010, September 2010 and January 2011 Scantron tests. We opted out Sam from the school’s administration of the May 2010 Reading Benchmark Assessment and Math Benchmark Assessment. In addition, when a university research team came to Sam’s school in October 2010 to study a science curriculum, he skipped the pre, during and post study standardized tests the researchers administered. While he still took part in the ISAT last spring, he opted out of over 20 hours of additional testing this year. During that time he read silently from books of his choice. He also wrote and drew pictures in his journal.

Helping my son

Until I asked my son’s principal and Board officials for specific test information, I didn’t know how many tests Sam would be forced to take. Like most Chicago public school parents, I received no information. Once I learned the extent of the testing it was an easy decision to say no. The tests rob my son of the learning and joy I want him to experience at school.

Instead of laboring over unnecessary tests, he reads and enjoys and learns. 

See three additional stories:

"It's the right thing to do": Q and A with Sam Schmidt

100+ unecessary tests (CPS testing schedule)

How to opt out

[Editor's Note: The article above (and three others linked in this article) originally appeared in the February 2011 print edition of Substance]. 


March 7, 2011 at 8:58 AM

By: Garth Liebhaber

More Child Centeredness

Great article, Sharon. A great example on the importance of allowing space for and encouraging intrinsically motivated learning.

Recently I was waiting for my five-year old daughter while she was in her ballet practice. Next to me was a mother with a seven-year old reading a sixth grade book about knights. Wow, I thought, how impressive, excellent reading skills. Then I noticed her mother kept looking up at the clock and a minute later she closed the book. Her daughter asked, "Did I finish my fifteen minutes?"

Despite the innate nature of institutional schooling, we teachers need to move schooling away from boring standardized testing and move it back toward more child-centeredness. This would allow for human differences to flourish in a positive manner, allowing for greater creative and higher level thinking.

I am so thankful I teach art!

March 8, 2011 at 11:47 PM

By: without an ISAT score

great job on not testing

but how do you apply for an SE school without an ISAt score?

March 9, 2011 at 5:54 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt


Sam took the ISAT in 3rd grade and will be taking it this year, too. The 20 hours of tests he skipped this past year include Scantron Performance Series, ETS Benchmark assessments in reading and math, and other standardized tests his class was given during a science and math study.

Although I think the use of the ISAT (including the pressure, excessive test-prep prior to it, the high-stakes, and time of the actual testing) is more problematic than the above tests we opted out of, it was so obvious that these other tests were excessive, unnecessary and skippable. (Also we began opting out with "low" stakes tests so no one could question our rights to do so).

We'll skip as many dumb tests as possible. But if there is a reason to have our sons take tests (such as application to selective enrollment high schools) they'll take them.

March 16, 2011 at 1:57 AM

By: Dan Schmidt

Super Mature Kid

Nice! If there's no good reason to take the test, don't. It's a waste of both time and money, and ultimately gets (mis)used as a cudgel against teachers and public schools.

I'm really proud, Sam! :)

March 23, 2011 at 8:47 AM

By: Grumpyelder



Quick reply to your comment on Sandra's Blog, Parents Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

And to your story. Most parents don't have a clue they can Opt Out, it's important they are told. It wouldn't be a bad idea if they were also told that under Obama, the DOE is paying states to allow students personal information to be data mined for possible commercial use in the future. Florida has received almost 10,000,000 in such funding.

If you would like I would be willing to post your story about Sam on my main website, Today I'm Grumpy About.

March 23, 2011 at 11:52 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Pennsylvania and Chicago parents opting out of tests

Michele Gray and other parents in Pennsylvania opted out their children from state tests this month.

See their story aired on CNN on Sunday, March 20:

To grumpy things blogger: Please post our Chicago opt out stories on your site.

April 28, 2011 at 10:38 AM

By: Chabata Johnson

Parent needs opt out information

By chabata johnson

I just learned about opt-out. My daughter just took the Isat test this year 03-09-11. If I have known about this, I too would have opted-out. While waiting for the results, the school wants to do an IEP. I am not sure. I am up under a lot of pressure. If she didn't pass the ISAT, I don't know if she can Opt-out and if she would get promoted to the next grade in the fall.

November 7, 2011 at 7:09 PM

By: Peggy Robertson

United Opt Out National

Check out our movement to end high stakes testing at and our Facebook group page at

February 28, 2012 at 10:37 PM

By: Christine Whitley

Opting Out of Standardized Testing

My child is a first grader at a Selective Enrollment School. We already opt out of homework. I am seriously thinking about opting out of standardized testing too. I had no idea there was so much of it even in the years before they get to the ISATS!

March 3, 2012 at 1:28 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Opting out of the ISAT

Sam won't take the ISAT next week.

February 28, 2014 at 10:43 AM

By: Jose Magdaraog

Opting out of ISATS

How do I do this?

February 28, 2014 at 3:17 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

ISAT opt out

Hi Jose,

You are commenting on an article I wrote three years ago. ISAT opt out is easy this year. Just write a letter to the principal stating that your child is opting out and provide him or her with something to do during the test. See

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