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Chicago teens trash tests

Instead of sitting down for tests, students in Chicago are standing up for themselves.

Some high school students are fed up with the myriad of standardized tests that are mandated by the state of Illinois.

“You’re learning this ’cause it’s on the test, but you’re not learning it ’cause it’s relevant,” said Will Tanzman, a senior at Whitney Young High School, a magnet school in urban Chicago. Tanzman is moderator of the Organized Students of Chicago, or the OSC.

“In the Chicago public schools, everything needs fixing,” Tanzman said.

A group of students from Whitney Young believed they could make a difference — and formed the OSC to pull it off.

“We’ve been kinda talking about standardized tests. We had five our junior year,” said Tanzman.

So the student group decided to focus on tests as a cause of stress for students.

Tanzman said multiple choice tests don’t reveal anything.

“The tests aren’t accurate,” said Tanzman. “They’re very limited.”

The OSC organized a sit-ion for one of the tests last school year. About 10 students purposely failed the test.

They did not break any rules by doing this, but were punished for it.

Tanzman said the chief executive officer of the Chicago school district “didn’t say anything about our punishment until it reached the news.” The students had to serve 10 hours of community service, to which they did not object.

Phil Hansen, the chief accountability officer of Chicago Public Schools said he has “grown to respect” the student protestors. “They’re very intelligent, very well-spoken young people.”

Hansen said in order to attend Whitney Young, a selective high school, students have to take standardized admissions tests.

The director of internal affairs for OSC, Whitney High senior Manuel Rodriguez, said, “We just think they’re being abused.”

One of the tests is used to determine promotion in the third, sixth and eighth grades, Hansen said.

About 10 percent of the students fail this exam and must attend a six-week summer school, he said. After the program, a retest, and teachers’ recommendation, 5 percent of the students end up repeating a grade, Hansen said.

Tanzman said the Riverside Publishing Co. insisted its tests “were limited and not to be used for the sole purpose of promotion.”

However, Tanzman said, the test company then said it was fine because the city is paying it to administer the tests.

Hansen said Tanzman “had a cynical point of view” on this matter.

There is intense test preparation and a lot of class time spent on how to take the tests, such as the five paragraph essay format, Tanzman said.

“The teachers got pressured from the principal to raise the (test) scores,” Tanzman said.

Hansen said the lower performance schools do spend more time preparing for the exams. However, the high performance schools use some class time “working on the skills” such as “inferences and making comparisons,” he said.

Rodriguez said while teachers support their endeavors, they “can’t say anything publicly ’cause they’re afraid they might lose their jobs.”

Hansen said parents haven’t commented either.

Commissioner Theodore Sergi of the Connecticut Department of Education said all standardized tests “have a purpose of improving teaching and assessing progress of the students. Everyone realizes there is a useful purpose but it can be abused. It hasn’t been, yet.”

Tanzman and his group do not think the tests are all bad.

There is something the tests could be useful for, Tanzman said.

“You can just look inside the classrooms and see the schools are failing. Ninety to 95 percent of Chicago schools’ students who go on to Chicago junior college end up taking remedial classes,” he said. In that case, he said, the tests could determine promotion.

Tanzman ranks among the top 10 percent of his class and would like to get involved in education policy in the future.

The standardized curriculum throughout Illinois, Tanzman said, “ignores free thinking and creativity and treats students like they’re sponges who are supposed to soak up the standardized curriculum and point of view instead of teaching them how to think for themselves.”

Hila Yosafi is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International. Chantelle Garzone, another YJI reporter, contributed to this story.

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