The craziness started back in May, 1999, when the Chicago Public Schools, run by CEO Paul Vallas, tried to ruin the life of a smart, polite 13-year-old African-American boy by unfairly and unreasonably flunking him based on one-tenth of a point on one standardized test.
The young man was an eighth grade student at a neighborhood Chicago public school. He had been a student there since starting preschool at age three. During those years, he missed only seven days of school, when he had the chicken pox in fifth grade. He was an honor student, earning A’s and B’s. By eighth grade, he had met the high academic standards for and was accepted into a high school International Baccalaureate program, and he was chosen by his school to receive the Presidential Award for academic achievement.
There was just one elementary school hurdle left. In 1996, CEO Vallas had instituted a “get tough” student promotion policy which set specific score targets on the annual Iowa Test of Basic Skills for students to meet in order to be promoted to the next elementary grade or high school. Vallas called this policy “ending social promotion.”
The young man scored 9.0 on the Iowa math test, well above the 7.4 cut-off point the district had set for promotion. But, although in seventh grade he had scored an 8.7 on the reading test, this time he had problems. Halfway into the Iowa test reading section, he had a kind of panic attack. He felt under a lot of pressure about the test, his head began to hurt, and he had to be helped out of the room by a security guard. On the make-up test, his reading score dropped to 7.3, one-tenth of a point below the promotion cut-off.
Because of that one-tenth of one point, he was not allowed to graduate in June with his classmates. He was not allowed to collect the Presidential Award and he was barred from all graduation celebrations. He was disqualified from the high school I. B. program. Instead of spending his summer getting ahead in the special preparatory classes for that program, the district was going to make him enroll in summer school where students practice how to take the Iowa test.
The young man’s mother asked that he be considered for a waiver. The school principal told her that the District told them there would be no waivers, but the Regional Office took her waiver application. They later learned that all waivers were denied.
The boy’s mother called the Board of Education. She was told there that she would have to take her complaint to the Regional Office. She then called Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), a local parent advocacy group which had been vocal in its opposition to the test-score-based promotion policy.
PURE held a press conference to publicize the young man’s situation. The following day, the family received a telephone call from the principal asking her to bring her son in for another make-up test in reading. On the second make-up test, the young man scored 9.9.
He was allowed out of summer school and into the high school preparation sessions. He received his elementary school diploma at a regional graduation ceremony for successful summer school students.
Meanwhile, PURE had filed a complaint with the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, charging that the district’s promotion policy was discriminatory and damaging. Retention in Chicago has since been shown to increase the drop out rate while not improving achievement. (Read more here about how the promotion policy was revised and PURE’s continuing fight against Chicago’s obsession with standardized tests.).
Fast forward to Dec. 2011. I received the following e-mail from that young man.
Hello, this is Everett Fonéy. I do not know if you remember me or not, however PURE helped me in 1999 when I was an eighth grader in Chicago Public Schools. Your organization allowed me to retake the Iowa test that I sadly failed due to being sick. I was able to retake the test after a retest. My retest made CPS look stupid when I scored a 10th grade Iowa Test score. I thank you and your organization. The voice of PURE helped me.
Since I graduated HS in 2003, I have graduated from Morehouse College. I am currently working on my MBA as a graduate student. When I graduate in June, I would like to pursue my passion of journalism. I am hoping to attend Berkeley School of Journalism in the fall of 2013. My hope is that my talent can give voice to people and tell their stories internationally.
For two academic school years, I have worked in Atlanta Public Schools where I have witnessed the injustice of “No Child Left Behind” and the standardized test. Teachers are at risk at losing their jobs due to this unjust system. Children are also at risk of losing qualified teachers based on a law and metric that holds no weight. Additionally, my school system made national headlines with a teaching scandal due to the pressure of standardized tests in this nation.
As I pursue my last MBA courses, I would like to do some freelance journalism work that will give voice to teachers, students, and parents about the injustice of “No Child Left Behind”. Additionally, it is the best service I can to give back to PURE as a former case load. I would like to write an article highlighting the relationships that will be broken by parents, teachers, and students if the turn-around proposal succeed. As a former educator in a Title 1 school, I remember having students who did not want to learn because they had personal problems (abusive parents, HIV infection, molestation, pregnancy, drug abuse, and human prostitution). The children were able to learn when they told teachers who they trusted about these situations. In Chicago Public Schools, I am sure these same problems and trust relationships occur. If these students lose teachers they trust, they will be set-up to fail.
I would love to find this story to begin a series of spotlights in our public “No Child Left Behind” education system. Sadly our children are left behind.