A CASE history of the "Chicago Academic Standards Exams", short version... With tests botched again, it's time to abolish the secrecy of high-stakes tests

[Editor's Note: Portions of the following originally were posted to District, the most widely read blog covering Chicago's public schools, on April 15, 2007.]

The Constitutional and political battles over Chicago's Academic Standards Exams (CASE) ended in a draw. Chicago originally sued me and Substance for $1.4 million and demanded the right to fire me from my teaching job. By the time all the legal battles (at a cost of more than $1 million on both sides combined) were over in early 2004, Chicago had terminated CASE and admitted that the CASE tests were worthless by abolishing CASE testing.

At the same time, the courts upheld the right of CPS to fire me from my teaching job at Bowen High School, a decision which we still disagree with but can't change in the courts. The Supreme Court denied cert and so the case ended with the last word, on the First Amendment issue, being that of Judge Richard Posner on behalf of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

But by that time, Chicago had reduced its damages claim from $1.4 million to zero.


Simply: They were afraid to take their claim to trail. The reason? We had the evidence, from CPS sources, that they knew all along that CASE was a terrible program, and a huge waste of money.

Much of the story of the CASE controversy was published in Substance between 1999 and 2004 and is available on the "old" Substance Web site (

This is a bit about some of those events, now that the Chicago and Illinois testing programs are again mired in confusion, controversy, and corruption.

Perjury in CASE depositions

The lawsuit against me and Substance was brought in January 1999, shortly after we published six of the 22 CASE pilot tests in Substance after those tests had been administered in the schools.

In an expensive but successful legal and media attack CPS and Mayor Daley tried to destroy us immediately. By the end of January 1999, Paul Vallas (then CEO of CPS), Gery Chico (then President of the Chicago Board of Education), and Mayor Daley had been on TV decrying the loss of money caused by our publication of the stupid CASE tests. Their objective, which they succeeded at, was to prevent other Chicago media from publishing the same material we had made available to the public.

The case dragged on for years. At first, CPS thought they could win quickly, but as we slowly prepared our defense (the charge was "copyright infringement"), the facts became more and more clear.

By late 2001 and early 2002, we were well into discovery in anticipation of a trial. We took depositions from five people. Paul Vallas and Phil Hansen both perjured themselves when they gave depositions in that $1.4 million CPS lawsuit against us. [Any time anyone wants to set up a public “session” at any legitimate professional conference (recent AERA was just one example) and invite the two of them to join me on a panel about that lawsuit should feel free to try. We have a pretty complete record of those memorable days, and so I don’t mind repeating, here as I’ve said and printed in public before]...

Paul Vallas and Phil Hansen perjured themselves in the CASE case. Hansen did it at least twice, the first time in the affidavits assigning that magic number “million dollars” to CASE (that was what grabbed the headlines the week in January 1999 they sued me) and later in the deposition. Vallas we had, under oath, in the despotion.

These guys, like the neo-cons and others who fall apart when their records get under oath, are welcome to return to the public debate about CASE, and the stuff they said, both on the pubic record, and in legal documents.

The CASE case lasted, in law, from January 1999 (when CPS sued me and Substance for $1.4 million for “copyright infringement”) through October 2004 (when the Supreme Court denied us cert on our appeal from Judge Posner’s Seventh Circuit decision).

Our side is fairly thoroughly told in the “Legal Fight” section on our website (, old site, see the menu bar). There is also a very large record at both the district court level and the Seventh Circuit here in Chicago. Anyone who wants can review it, although it takes up several boxes.

There were ultimately two legal issues in the case.

The first was whether the Chicago Board of Education could fire me (after a teaching career that had spanned 28 years in the classroom, most in the inner city) for publishing in a newspaper I edited (outside of school time) the Board’s “copyrighted” material (six of the 22 CASE tests that had been administered in January 1999).

The courts have held that that “copyright” claim could be enforced at the price of my teaching job.

The second issue was monetary damages for the cost — or value — of CASE.

From the beginning, we were serious about proving that the CASE tests were a waste of taxpayer dollars, and we did. The waste increased all along, as the Board paid its own lawyers (hundreds of thousands of dollars to Nancy Laureto of the Law Dept. and others) and outside lawyers (more hundreds of thousands of dollars to Patsy Felch, Fred Bates, and others). Plus the cost of CASE (everything from item development to printing).

On our side, as has been noted, we had to sacrifice, too. The ACLU and NLG refused to do anything for us. So we wound up spending a lot of years fundraising and using our savings to defend ourselves. And, yes, it did require a great deal of time, money, and energy.

But one of the most amazing things happened to those “million dollar” headlines Vallas, Gery Chico, and Richard M. Daley gabbed the day they sued me (yes, all three of them had their talking points ready for the evening news cycle on January 26 and January 27, 1999; it’s worth a backwards glance now that it’s history).

From more than a million dollars to zero

The million dollar value disappeared.

To zero.

Because our heroes didn’t want to go to court to prove the value of CASE after grabbing all those headlines. Because we would have been able to prove that CASE was a monstrous waste of time (how many kids and teachers wasted how many hours on CASE during those years) and money. Public funds and public servants’ time and public school children’s time.

Rather than go to trial (with public testimony and cross examination) about the actual “value” of the CASE tests, CPS folded in December 2003 and January 2004. Specifically, they stipulated that they would not seek damages, reducing the value of all those headlines from five years earlier to zero.

That posed some big questions, although I haven’t heard from most of the players yet (one of the interesting things about people who engage in stuff like lynchings is that later some of them need to talk about what they did, either because they’re proud of it or because later they find some conscience and feel the need for confession and absolution).

So officially, they reduced the damages claim from $1.4 million (Hansen’s affidavit in front of Judge Charles Norgle Jr. February 1999, amended CPS complaint) to zero.

That way, they avoided a public trial.

At the same time, after the Curie teachers announced they would refuse to administer the CASE, Arne Duncan quietly abandoned the entire CASE project.

By that time, the Chicago Teachers Union had joined our appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (amicus brief is in the record), along with four others.

I’d call that a victory, and have.

Teaching job lost, blacklist continues

The fact that I lost my CPS teaching job for doing something that had nothing to do with my teaching is an interesting topic of discussion.

The fact that the CPS “DO NOT HIRE” list extends to the suburbs (where I am also blacklisted from public high school teaching) is also interesting at this point in history.

Whether I should be entitled to something as a whistle blower, given all the money that CPS ultimately saved by not continuing CASE, is yet another question.

But thanks to all that work (and not the least to the Curie teachers) CASE, at least, is dead.

Encore: CASE is dead in Chicago.

Fact is: It should never have existed, let alone been a multi-million dollar waste of CPS money. It sits now as an artifact of a very silly and nasty time in history. Eventually, that part will make an interesting (albeit small) chapter.

Substance and others said that CASE was garbage

But I wasn’t the only one who said that CASE was garbage as a professional test and a waste of money, in 1999 or since.

One of the little joys of the recent AERA convention was seeing Eva Baker gains and watching Eva Baker’s activities. She would have been an interesting witness had CPS dared go to trial on CASE.

Eva Baker was head of CRESST (UCLA) back in 1999, and CPS paid CRESST more than $500,000 to evaluate CASE. Every year, CRESST said the same thing about CASE that every CPS teacher did, albeit psychometrically more lengthily.

Basically, the annual CASE report from CPS’s official outside scientific evaluators (CRESST, Eva Baker, outgoing president of AERA) said CASE was garbage. In professional terms of course: validity (nil); reliabilaity (nil, too). Prospects for improvement (this really got funny after CPS kept doing the same things over and over again despite warnings from CRESST).

What CRESST reported in several massive volumes scientifically evaluating CASE for CPS at a cost of a half million dollars is just what hundreds of teachers were saying in 1998, 1999, and since. When a group of them said it loud enough to worry Arne (again, there was always the danger with CASE that the CRESST reports would also come to public discussion),

Arne dumped CASE. And my colleagues in the media, after a brief report, decided to leave out the context of our work against CASE earlier. Let alone any of the lurid and expensive details of the costs of CASE, or the cost of persecuting me and Substance for CASE.

That was then.

This is now.

Transparency: Tests should be public after they have been administered

My position then, and now, is that all high-stakes tests should be public after they have been administered.

You want secret private tests, you have the right to send your children to a secret private school and pay for it yourself.

We were always talking about public policies for public schools.

For the past 12 years, Chicago has had to live in a faith based testing environment. Chicago’s corporate defense of CASE was just a piece of that nonsense.

Parents, children and teachers all have the right to review the entire test — not just those silly “sample questions” that mesmerize Tribune readers when they’re put on the front page with a little footnote.

Every teacher and parent knows that the only way to judge how useful any test is to review the whole thing, and the context. Afterwards, you can do reliability and validity studies and all that nice “research” stuff. But the first review of a public program as expensive and important as high-stakes testing is a public review, a common sense any parent can do it sniff test.

Texas and Massachusetts have always done that (after some agitation).

New York also has test openness.

Chicago doesn’t share anything about the content of the tests it uses for some of the most ruthless high stakes purposes, and the tests are kept secret from everybody (Ha! Do you really believe that?).

Chicago pioneered student retention based on high-stakes testing and ruined the lives of thousands of children in the process. That “ending social promotion” nonsense hasn’t helped the majority it was supposed to help. That was the Daley policy when Paul Vallas was CEO.

Chicago pioneered school closings based on “underperformance” as measured by test scores, isolated from virtually all other realities (including the most relevant psychometric ones). Arne Duncan has been patting himself on the back (that word “courage” always oozes from the mouths of bullies) about the closings, and he’s kept the support of the “public” (i.e., corporate media) through dozens of very vicious attacks on teachers and schools.

Pioneering a national policy of using test scores to attack public schools

Now those attacks will become national policy, instead of being regionalized in New Orleans, Chicago, and a couple of other places.

Not only are “SES” privatizations based on “underperformance” on secret high-stakes multiple-choice so-called “standardized” tests, but hundreds of public schools will soon be lined up for privatization under No Child Left Behind.

Chicago, whether with CASE or with the larger abuses of testing (retention; school closings) has been in the vanguard of some of the most vicious attacks on democratic public schools in the past half century.

It’s nothing to be proud of to have been a part of that stuff.

And it’s everything to know who was resisting those things before it became (as it will within the next couple of years) fashionable to “Just Say No!” to the child abuse inherent in the use of multiple-choice secret so-called “standardized” tests.

I mentioned in another thread here that I was looking at abandoned buildings adjacent to a few Chicago schools. One reason for that is that the percentage of abandoned buildings is one dramatic indicator of a social and economic crisis that is weighing on every child in a community.

To think that a community and its children could be measured by the results of the ISAT or PSAE in that context is as ridiculous as to think that Patrick Ryan, Richard M. Daley, or Arne Duncan is going to move his family, for at least two years, to a “home” at, say, 68th and Normal or 64th and Paulina, attend the schools there, play on the streets there, try to get into the playlots there, etc., etc., etc.

My colleagues and I have opposed the use of secret high-stakes testing against children since Paul Vallas was Chicago’s school reform hero.

We continued to oppose the use of secret high-stakes testing against children, teachers and schools since Arne Duncan became Chicago’s school reform hero.

That’s always been the issue and will continue to be. I could give any number of historical examples about similar stuff, but they’d be, as the psychometricians call it, “distractors”. And we wouldn’t want to miss the point of a good discussion — whether of perjuries on the part of wealthy public bullies or noxious test-based attacks on children and public schools — of one of the most important domestic policy questions of the early decades of this century. 


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