Ask Curie High School English teacher Martin McGreal what's wrong with the Chicago Academic Standards Examinations - better known as the CASE - and he doesn't mince words. "It's an indefensible test," he says flatly. "It's not a valid assessment, and it's a huge waste of instructional time."
Fellow teacher Umbreen Qadeer is equally blunt. "I feel guilty that I actually allowed my students to believe that this test was any sort of measure of their intelligence," she says.
I know the feeling. During my nine years as a Chicago Public School teacher, one of the few things I truly dreaded was watching my eighth graders suffer through the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) each spring. And when the ITBS became a "high-stakes" event in 1996 -- used as the measuring stick to determine whether my students would move on to high school - the scene was even grimmer.
Occasionally, I would talk with other frustrated teachers about boycotting the tests or staging a walkout. I attended meetings of a grassroots group called Teachers for Social Justice, where we brainstormed ways to fight the growing reliance on test scores as the singular means of assessing students, teachers, and schools. But come April, I'd always be right back where I'd been the year before: tail between my legs, passing out Number Two pencils and bubble sheets.
Not so for McGreal, Qadeer, and 10 other English and Social Studies teachers at Curie, a 3,300-student high school on Chicago's southwest side. In September, the members of the group - calling themselves Curie Teachers for Authentic Assessment - sent a signed letter to Chicago schools' CEO Arne Duncan that lays out a detailed, convincing critique of the CASE, a series of exams administered each January and June to freshmen and sophomores in Chicago public schools. The letter concludes by stating matter-offactly that its authors "will not be administering the CASE this year." (See the letter on the Rethinking Schools website)