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SUBSTANCE EXCLUSIVE. 'While, I respect the right to opt out of testing, it is extremely important that all families understand that by doing so their childs future could be negatively impacted...' In December 20 edict, Byrd Bennett orders principals to stop parents from opting kids out of NWEA

The "Chief Executive Officer" of the third-largest school system in the United States hastily issued an order on Friday, December 20, 2013 to CPS principals. The principals were asked to stop parents from having their children opted out of the NWEA testing program. In what amounts to a threat against parents via the future of their children, Byrd Bennett warned principals to warn parents about the "possible adverse impact" of boycotting the tests on the children.

Two days after she reported to the December 18, 2013 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (above), Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett dispatched a letter to both parents and principals trying to head off a massive boycott of the CPS NWEA testing program. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."While, I respect the right to opt out of testing, it is extremely important that all families understand that by doing so their childs future could be negatively impacted," Byrd Bennett wrote in the December 20, 2013 memo she issued by email to the city's public school principals. A companion letter to be sent home to parents via their children follows towards the end of this article.

Parents who asked principals for further information about the massive testing being done this school year have been rebuffed, with some principals refusing to honor the requests of parents.

The full memo to principals follows:

From: Communications, Internal Date: Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Subject: Message from CEO Byrd-Bennett, backpack letters for today

Dear Principals and Network Chiefs,

As you know, the Chicago Board of Education recently approved a new promotion policy for our elementary school students. The former promotion policy, which used the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) as the standardized assessment, had to be updated due to the change in the format of the ISAT. I fully support this change to align with Common Core State Standards and create a more well-rounded picture of student process and needs.

As educators, we know that the data gleaned from the NWEA illustrates whether our children are on the right path and helps us better direct our resources to those students who need individual supports. This is why we must make every effort to ensure the highest possible participation from our students.

I am aware of certain groups who are encouraging parents to opt out of the NWEA exam. While, I respect the right to opt out of testing, it is extremely important that all families understand that by doing so their childs future could be negatively impacted. As school leaders, I am asking that you continue to work to educate students, teachers, parents and the community on why this test is so critical. Without scores from the NWEA exam, students will not meet the necessary criteria for grade promotion and could be required to attend summer school before being allowed to move to their next grade.

I thank you for the work you do each day to support the next generation of Chicagos children, and ask that you stress to your families and school communities how important it is that every student participate in this springs NWEA exam.

Sincerely,

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

CEO, Chicago Public Schools

The same day, but too late in many schools for the principals to distribute to children, Byrd Bennett issued the same message for distribution to more than 400,000 children.

The memo sent to CPS parents by Barbara Byrd Bennett was sent to be distributed by principals on December 20, 2013. Above, a copy of the memo, which did not reach all parents before the Winter Holidays began.The message children were supposed to take home to their parents follows:

Dear CPS Parent or Guardian.

In October, the Chicago Board of Education passed a new promotion policy for our elementary school students. No longer do we use the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) as the standardized assessment. Our new policy relies heavily on data from the Northwest Education Association (NWEA) exam, which is administered to students in the spring. I fully support this change, as I believe it will create a more well-rounded picture of student progress and needs.

In the coming weeks, you may receive correspondence from individuals and/or groups encouraging your child not to participate in this exam. While I respect your right to opt out of testing, it is extremely important for you to understand that by doing so your childs future could be negatively impacted. Scores from the NWEA are one of the tools we use to gauge a students readiness for the next grade level, and which could benefit from summer school.

I understand the view that too many assessments can take away from our childrens valuable learning time. I share this concern, which is why my staff has conducted a rigorous review of all District assessments, and decided to reduce assessments for students in Grades K-2. However, certain exams, including the NWEA test that will be administered this spring, are important tools for measuring student growth and determining where children need academic supports. That is precisely why I encourage you to allow your child to participate in this exam.

I thank you for the work you do each day to support the next generation of Chicagos children. If you have questions about the NWEA exam, I invite you to contact Myetie Hamilton at 773-553-2237.

Sincerely,

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

CEO, Chicago Public Schools

Basically, Byrd Bennett is using the "New Promotion Policy" to threaten children on their futures at CPS. The seven members of the Board of Education and Byrd Bennett are now claiming that children will not be able to get into Chicago's selective enrollment high schools and other special programs unless they comply with the current CPS testing program, which will be ignoring state test results and using a private testing program -- at least for this year.

CPS has changed the test it uses every three to five years since mayoral control began in 1995. The reason is a simple accounting trick. Every time a "new" test is used, the baseline for "Trending Up" is established at a lower place than students had reached on the test's predecessor. The cheap accounting trick was begun by Paul G. Vallas in 1996, when he told schools that the most important test would be the IGAP (the state test at the time) and that the ITBS (and the high school TAP) would really not count for much. After the testing programs were completed (and teachers had de-emphasized the ITBS, resulting in lower scores), Vallas changed his mind and decided that the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) was really after all and certainly the better test than the state test.

Because the ITBS scores had been artificially lowered, Vallas had a base line from which he could claim "improved" citywide test results for the net couple of years. By 1999, the fraud had played itself out, and even then Mayor Richard M. Daley was asking questions about where the miracle was going. By 2001, Vallas was on his way out of town.

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Comments:

December 23, 2013 at 12:54 PM

By: Rod Estvan

CEO's internal memo

First off thanks to Substance for making public the CEO's memo. The letter to principals from CEO Byrd-Bennett was exceedingly unwise from a legal perspective. I am honestly somewhat surprised that the CPS General Counsel supported its release, possibly Mr. Bebley was not consulted.

Some things are from a legal perspective better simply not said. For example CEO Byrd-Bennett writes: "While, I respect the right to opt out of testing, it is extremely important that all families understand that by doing so their childs future could be negatively impacted."

Under Illinois State law CEO Byrd-Bennett was under no obligation to indicate that parents had any "right to opt out of testing." Illinois law has no testing opt-out provision/specified parental right to opt students out. In fact, state law states that all children in specified grades must be tested.

US Supreme Court decisions such as Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35, Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402, and Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 are far from definitive on the issue of whether or not failure of a student to be tested can be the sole criteria for denial of academic advancement. These are the primary cases that supporters of the opt out movement use to support the "right" to opt out.

The Pierce case was from 1925 and involved an illegal attempt on the part of the State of Oregon that was primarily aimed at eliminating parochial schools, including Catholic schools. In Prince v. Massachusetts the Court did state : It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder. But the Court also stated: "The family itself is not beyond regulation in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither the rights of religion nor the rights of parenthood are beyond limitation"

In Meyer the Court struck down a law dealing with the teaching of German in a parochial school. The Court in Meyer stated in using the 14th Amendment to strike down the law:" That the state may do much, go very far, indeed, in order to improve the quality of its citizens, physically, mentally and morally, is clear; but the individual has certain fundamental rights which must be respected. The protection of the Constitution extends to all, to those who speak other languages as well as to those born with English on the tongue. Perhaps it would be highly advantageous if all had ready understanding of our ordinary speech, but this cannot be coerced by methods which conflict with the Constitutiona desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means."

Now for the CEO to go from granting a right to parents where it may or may not exist to the following statement is rather amazing: "Without scores from the NWEA exam, students will not meet the necessary criteria for grade promotion and could be required to attend summer school before being allowed to move to their next grade."

Legally it is totally unclear whether a child can be denied promotion based only on the failure to take a test assuming they received passing grades from their teachers. Why in the world would CEO Byrd-Bennett opine on such a complex issue in this manner is simply beyond me.

I would say the CEO's attempt to utilize intimidation against the opt out movement was actually a God send for the movement. She has now created a documented record of school policy arguing that simple failure to have a testing record can be the sole criteria for the denial of an otherwise qualified student's grade promotion. I would suggest that could be a case the ACLU of Illinois might want to take up will glee.

Rod Estvan

December 24, 2013 at 10:17 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Sadistic CPS 'Promotion Policy'

It's a good thing that Rod Estvan is highlighting the sadistic part of Barbara Byrd Bennett's attempt to defend the ridiculous NWEA testing program -- the threat that children won't be promoted if they "fail" or do not take the NWEA. This is not 1996, when Paul Vallas could get away with years of nonsense against children, "holding them back" and forcing thousands to attend summer school even though research showed that retention only increased dropouts and summer school was three hours of hot, miserable test prep which only increased the reasons why a generation of Chicago kids came to hate school.

The best thing about the 2014 Opt Out movement in Chicago is that it will focus attention on the "Promotion Policy" that CPS adopted for this school year, and prove another example of how hypocritical Barbara Byrd Bennett is being every time her prattle deliriously wanders into that stuff about "as a teacher, parent, and grandparent..." she KNOWS what's BEST for children. She didn't become an overpaid honcho for the Broad Foundation and corporate "school reform" by caring how many sadistic policies were foisted on children and the families of the poor.

December 24, 2013 at 8:40 PM

By: susan Ohanian

NWEA testing

I've always wondered why Chicago is so intent on keeping NWEA testing. Ha. There are a lot of close connections between NWEA, corporate reform, and Chicago. I list a few here.

http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=1751

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