By Michelle Strater Gunderson.

I worked the work of three people this week. I do not say this to be congratulated or slapped on the back. I have never been one of those people who brag about being tired because I do too much.

I say this because it is true.

This past week the students at my school were taking the PARCC exam. All of the special education teachers were pulled from servicing the children in my classroom in order to accommodate children who were testing.

I teach first grade in a neighborhood school for the Chicago Public Schools. The PARCC exam begins in the third grade, but even though my students did not take the test, their schedules and learning were still disrupted and negatively affected by the tests. There are 5 wonderful children in my classroom with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and most of these plans are quite extensive (as they should be). Our room works in a co-teaching model where an education specialist, teaching assistant, and I work together to bring everyone’s Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to life. Our speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and social worker filter in and out of the room to serve the children per their IEPs.

It works perfectly until the supports are taken away, and last week facing this work alone with my teaching assistant I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me – and so did the children.

Now, it would be wrong of me to paint the picture of my classroom last week as chaos. That was not the case. I am very good at what I do. Yet the quality of my teaching was affected, as was the amount of energy I had for each child. To a casual observer it would seem that everything was going well. The part that needs to be explained is what was missing from our classroom this past week:

  • One child did not receive the occupational therapy he needs to help him with impulse control
  • Another child did not receive the speech services she needs to communicate well with others
  • One child who needs writing support did not have her work scribed for her
  • Four children did not have their reading lessons taught by a specialist for the entire week
  • Three children did not have their math lessons taught in a small group for the entire week

One of my students was so distressed by the break in her routine that she followed me around each day pulling on my sleeve every 10 minutes asking when her teacher was going to come. She then began scratching her arm until she broke the skin before I could notice.

There is no way anyone could say that these children received their Free and Appropriate Public Education this past week. And this was just one classroom in a system of more than 300,000 children.

And why did the Chicago Schools do this? Because the PARCC test is a state mandated test that supposedly aligns with the Common Core State Standards. It is a measurement instrument that by any standard of research would be considered worthless. The data is not received in a timely matter so that it is actionable, many passages of the tests are written above grade level so the test becomes a guessing game not a measure, and the test takes way too long to administer keeping children away from classroom learning.

So in other words, the learning lives of Chicago’s children were put on hold for no reason – and I would posit that harm was done.

I am writing this a week after the Chicago Teachers Union one day historic strike asking for fair funding and education justice – part of which is a reduction of standardized testing. In response to the strike both our governor and mayor stated that the Chicago teachers were interrupting the education of children, and that our actions were shameful

Mayor Emanuel and Governor Rauner, you are the grand interrupters of our children’s education.

This is what I know for certain – my classroom last week would have brought every education reformer there is begging to their knees. There is no reason to put an entire school on hold just to serve their “measure to manage” agenda, and this needs to stop.

Michelle Strater Gunderson is a 29 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction.


Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.


  1. Amy Pybus    

    Beautifully put. You said everything I’ve been railing about for 10 years in a concise, honest, hard-hitting way. Thank you for your powerful words and your bravery in speaking out.

  2. Erik Snyder    

    Thank you for your insightful post Michelle.

    I have spent the past few days reading a number of articles about the implementation of the Common Core and PARCC testing.

    We are currently involved in PARCC testing which will overlap with AP testing starting next week. In order to meet the requirement of a certified teacher facilitating each exam room, we have teachers running tests, other teachers and substitutes covering their classes, special educators with no co-teachers, teachers losing portions of their planning to test or cover, classes displaced, an altered schedule, administrators and guidance devoted completely to testing, and student services limited due to lack of staff and resources. Most schools are in similar situations.
    Our testing started April 14 and including AP testing, senior finals, and regular final exams, there is testing in our building every day until the last day of school, June 17. My principal joked on the morning announcements that day that “testing goes on from today until the end of time.” Our district lacks the infrastructure to facilitate the online version of PARCC so we are still paper and pencil. When we move to online, the library and every computer lab in the building will be inaccessible to classes for the 3 weeks. Additionally there are in class assessments, benchmark assessments, and other tests throughout the year. We haven’t even begun to implement measurements in science, social studies, and other areas. As you said, everything is put on hold to measure. However, what is there to measure when we are unable to instruct because we are too busy measuring?

    My son is a tenth grader. He deals with depression and anxiety, yet is a high level student in accelerated classes. He has spent 2 hours each day for the past four days testing. He comes home drained, anxious, irritable, and tired. He has fallen asleep as soon as he walked in the door each night and has had difficulty waking up to complete homework. He also has makeup work from the classes he’s missed due to testing. This is not the type of education that is equitable and meets his needs. He has no problem meeting the outcomes but is being over tested and overworked so that a flawed system can attempt to show that he’s learned what he was supposed to and his teachers did their jobs.

    Through my studies, I’ve learned that the original intention of the Common Core was to scale back the curriculum that have become “a mile wide and an inch deep” and have a clear set of standards nationwide. However, through political agendas, attempts to incorporate the Common Core into what we already do rather than replacing it, and other changes that made it incredibly lengthy and difficult to implement, it is only a shadow of what it was meant to be. We now teach even more topics than before, expect greater depth taught, and have less instruction time due to testing. This doesn’t make sense.

    I would suggest several shifts in the educational paradigm if we wish to actually meet the needs of our students. First, over-testing needs to be eliminated and testing needs to be restructured. Tests should be shortened to cover only essential objectives. Outside facilitators may need to be brought in to give the tests like is done with the SATs or only have students being tested come on test days. Second, Common Core needs to be rewritten and implemented as intended, or it needs to be abandoned. It is not possible to implement on top of or in alignment with everything we have always done. You can’t add new with removing old. And finally, students need to come first. Assessment should be a way to determine student needs and better meet them through intentional adjustments to instruction. It was never intended to be a teacher job performance rating, something that monopolized a majority of the educational time, manpower, and resources, or a grueling task with no apparent incentive for our learners.

  3. Krysta    

    Unlike other hot-button issues that are in the news these days, I can say that I already have a strong opinion based on my experiences as a teacher in the school system. I would have to agree with Ms. Gunderson that PARCC testing is disruptive to learning. Students’ schedules are changed drastically which can greatly affect those students who benefit from a continuous schedule. Also, long testing hours take away from the time they have to instruct for the rest of the day. Students are forced into a testing environment that is stressful, and extremely different from what they are used to in the classroom setting where they become so nervous to do something wrong with so many little testing rules to follow that their performance is affected. Also, the rest of the students in the school who are not taking the test are affected because their schedule is also changed, and they lose services they are supposed to receive so that a small amount of students can take a standardized test according to very strict guidelines. It seems to me that the benefits of the test are far outweighed by the hindrances they cause.

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