Publication Date: 2002-12-06
Here's the full story on the infamous CASE and the people who erased it.
(Chicago. December 6, 2002). Top officials of Chicago's public school system told the press and others late on the afternoon December 5 that they are immediately suspending the controversial CASE (Chicago Academic Standards Examinations) tests. School officials also indicated that the tests will not be administered in January 2003 as previously announced by the school system's testing officials.
Word of the termination of the hotly debated six-year-old testing program began spreading throughout the city's education community on the afternoon of December 5 after staff members of the Chicago Board of Education's public
relations department informed reporters for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times that the CASE was being dropped.
The quiet announcement, which came in the form of confirmations to individual reporters late on the afternoon of December 5, was made by Chicago's Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins, according to informed sources. By day's end, reporters were interviewing teachers from Chicago's Curie High School, who had vowed to boycott the CASE when it was scheduled to be
administered on January 22 and 23, 2003. Reporters were also getting statements from members of the staff of the monthly teachers' newspaper Substance, which is still facing a $1 million "copyright infringement" lawsuit for publishing six of the 22 pilot forms of the CASE exams in the newspaper's January-February 1999 issue.
"I first learned of this when our teachers were told not to go to a CASE coordinators meeting," said Curie High School English teacher Martin McGreal. "By late afternoon it was confirmed."
McGreal had been serving as spokesman for the group of 12 teachers who vowed to boycott the CASE in a September 23 letter to Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan. The story was originally reported in the October Substance, which published a copy of the Curie teachers' letter. Teachers at more than a dozen other Chicago public high schools were
considering similar actions or support for the Curie teachers at the time the
CASE was abolished.
According to reliable sources, Chicago school officials state that they will replace CASE with some other form of assessment. They confirm that CASE has been terminated, and that no CASE tests will be administered in January 2003.
The CASE tests had been administered every semester in the city's nearly 100 public high schools and in dozens of elementary schools since they were first piloted in January 1998. By January 1999 with the implementation of a
citywide pilot program, CASE became a routine part of the annual testing regimen for Chicago's 7,000 high school teachers and nearly 100,000 high school students.
The CASE tests had been given in 11 subject areas -- English I, English II, World Studies, U.S. History, Algebra, Geometry, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Earth and Space Science, and Environmental Sciences. Each CASE test consisted
of a multiple choice section (usually consisting of 30 questions, but varying according to the year and test) and a "constructed response" section. Thus a total of 22 CASE examinations were administered each semester, or 44 each
school year, by the Chicago Board of Education.
According to Chicago school officials, the CASE tests were developed to test whether Chicago students were learning content area material based on the Chicago Academic Standards (CAS). Between 1998 and the end of 2002, the Chicago school system spent more than $10 million developing, printing, scoring and analyzing the controversial tests. Teachers also charged that the CASE took eight school days out of their teaching calendars at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in what most called wasted test prep and test time. The multiple choice sections of the examinations were machine scored by Chicago school board employees. Classroom teachers were responsible for scoring the constructed response sections of each of the tests.
The tests became controversial from their inception. After initial pilots at a small number of schools in January and June 1998, Chicago hired at least six full-time staff members in its central offices to coordinate CASE. All CASE coordinators worked in a complex structure under the supervision of Chicago's Chief Accountability Officer Phil Hansen and the director of
citywide testing, Carole Perlman. By late 1998, CASE became a central part of the annual testing program of former Chicago schools CEO Paul J. Vallas, who vigorously defended the tests in the public media and authorized what many considered to be draconian steps to continue the program.
By the summer of 1998, more than 40 teachers were also involved in the CASE program as summer test item writers. Each was paid between $3,000 and $5,000 per year to write test items under the supervision of the "CASE coordinators" at the central office. Additionally, Chicago secured grant money (which ultimately totaled more than $1 million) from the MacArthur Foundation to pay
for professional assistance in the CASE program.
During the summer of 1998, individuals involved in the program began questioning it and provided Substance with some early materials indicating
the weaknesses of both the concept of CASE and its execution. Throughout the month of September, October, November and December 1998, teacher opposition to CASE became more vocal as the school system moved towards the first citywide implementation of the program in all high schools. By December 1998, every high school in Chicago had to have a "CASE coordinator" in each subject area, as well as a school-wide CASE coordinator.
In the context of Chicago's move towards expanded high-stakes testing in both the elementary and high schools, CASE was only one of three or four major tests that grew in importance during the "Vallas years" (1995-2001). In addition to CASE, by January 1999 Chicago high school students were required to take the Illinois Goals Assessment Program (IGAP) tests and the Tests of
Achievement and Proficiency (TAP).
During 1999 and 2000, CASE was still in a pilot phase and did not have "accountability consequences" for teachers or students.
For what school officials called school-wide "accountability," the TAP test was the most important for the high schools during the latter part of the 1990s. In 1997, seven Chicago high schools had been placed on "reconstitution" based solely on TAP test scores in reading and math.
Ultimately, Chicago fired 137 tenured high school teachers following the reconstitution. In June 2000, Chicago placed an additional five high schools on "intervention" (an equally draconian form of sanction against schools) because of what school officials called "low" TAP scores. (High school teachers were not the only ones to suffer from test-based "accountability" programs in Chicago. In April 2002, Chicago closed three elementary schools, citing low scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills as the main reason,
displacing more than 200 teachers and 1,500 students).
By January 1999, with the first citywide implementation of the Pilot CASE, teacher and student criticism had reached a peak. The January 1999 CASE test was administered in all of the city's high schools between January 15 and
January 19 of that year. (The testing program had originally been scheduled for the first week of the month but was postponed because of a blizzard which closed the city's schools). On January 14 and January 15, 1999, anonymous sources provided Substance with copies of what appeared to be all 22 of the "Pilot Form B" CASE tests, and Substance confirmed their authenticity. On
January 19, 1999, Substance published six of those tests in full in its January-February 1999 edition.
On January 26, 1999, the Chicago Board of Education (then called the "Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees") sued Substance in the U.S. District Court, charging "copyright infringement" and claiming more than $1 million in damages. In a highly controversial decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, Jr. issue three extraordinary orders that afternoon in response to the Board's complaint against Substance -- a temporary restraining order; a protective order on the CASE tests; and a writ of seizure empowering the school board to call upon federal marshals to seize all copies of the newspaper Substance. In their motion for the writ of seizure, Chicago Board of Education lawyers stated that they should be given the power to go to the homes of Chicago teachers if they wished to seize copies of the newspaper.
For two days, on January 26 and January 27, 1999, the CASE lawsuit became a major subject of public discussion in Chicago. All of the city's television news stations reported the story, quoting CEO Paul Vallas, school board
president Gery Chico, and Mayor Richard M. Daley on behalf of the lawsuit and quoting this reporter (who has been serving as editor of Substance since 1996) in opposition to the school board's legal attack.
While school officials and their lawyers moved against Substance in court, others warned the rest of the city's media to stop quoting the more
ridiculous examples of bad questions from the CASE tests that had been published in Substance. In briefings to the editorial boards of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, school board officials warned the newspapers' editors that they would move against other media were further discussion of the CASE tests to continue. Electronic media journalists also received
similar warnings, and the public discussion of the CASE tests' content had been effectively suppressed by the morning of January 28, 1999, when both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times editorialized against Substance and
During January and February 1999, Chicago's policies of high-stakes testing had reached flashpoints with several community and students groups, as well as the teachers represented by Substance.
On January 27, 1999, PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) held a press conference to denounce the misuse of the Iowa tests by the Vallas administration. PURE continued its opposition to the use of the Iowa test for
student retention decisions in third, sixth and eighth grades in Chicago elementary schools.
A few weeks later, a group of students from the city's elite public high schools announced that they were deliberately failing the Illinois test, the IGAP. Calling themselves Concerned Students of Chicago, the students cited CASE and the IGAP as examples of out-of-control testing programs that were undermining teaching and learning.
But the ruthless use of expensive legal work and the suppression of public discussion of the CASE test themselves following Judge Norgle's rulings and the editorials that appeared on January 28, 1999, in both Chicago daily newspapers effectively ended much of the public criticism of CASE from Chicago's teachers. The failure of Chicago's media (with a couple of notable
exceptions, most notably the weekly newspaper Reader) to support Substance in its First Amendment defense against the school board's lawsuit allowed the controversial testing programs to continue unchallenged. On March 5, 1999, the Board of Education suspended this reporter without pay from a teaching job at Bowen High School, and in August 2000, the Board of Education voted unanimously to fire me despite a report from a state hearing officer which
said, in part, that Chicago's students needed more public school teachers like me.
In addition to approving the Board of Education's controversial "copyright infringement" claim and giving it the sanction of the federal court, Judge Charles NorgleJr., dismissed Substance's defense under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and under the "Fair Use" provisions of copyright law. By late 2001, Substance was in court merely to defend itself against the
damages claims brought by the city's public school system. Between December 2001 and October 2002, Substance rejected a number of offers by the Board of Education to "settle" the case by reducing the "damages." In October, I told
the judge that we had to have our day in court, even it at first it was only on the damages issue, because the constitutional issues involved in the proceedings were too important. If government officials are allowed to use
copyright to suppress the news and the publication of government documents, then all of the press are in trouble, even if Chicago's major media have been silent in the face of the attack on me and Substance. And if a newspaper
can't invoke "fair use" as a defense, they the public's right to know is severely chilled.
Throughout the four years that Substance confronted the CASE tests and criticized Chicago's high-stakes testing programs, support from people locally around the country was key to the newspaper's survival. Fair Test's Monty Neill and education writer Gerald Bracey both served as expert witnesses on behalf of Substance and this reporter, while more than 2,000 individual contributions were received to sustain the growing legal costs that burdened Substance and its editor. By November 2002, Substance had spent
more than $120,000 on legal costs arising from the various CASE claims and counterclaims. Substance also estimated that the Board of Education by then had spent more than $500,000 on its legal attack on Substance, including
nearly $250,000 for expensive outside lawyers (including Patricia Felch and Fred Bates) who joined with more than a dozen board lawyers at various points in the legal work to suppress the CASE debate.
Thousands of people rallied to Substance's defense during the four years since the litigation began. When the Curie teachers announced their plans, Substance organized donations to a special library of materials on education. By November 10, the Curie teachers received autographed books from Peter Sachs, Richard Allington, Walt Haney, Monty Neill, Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, and Gary Orfield, each thanking the teachers for their courage. Education writers Linda McNeill and Angela Valenzuela reportedly sent their books to
Curie High School directly.
The books were presented to the teachers on the stage of Chicago's world famous Second City by Substance editors George Schmidt and Sharon Schmidt during the intermission of a benefit performance of Second City. The annual Second City benefit has been part of Substance's legal defense and survival fund. Since November 10, books by Ken Goodman and Yetta Goodman have also
arrived for the fund. A photograph of the event will appear on page one of the December 2002 Substance, which has been postponed for one week and will be mailed to Subscribers on December 11, 2002.
Teacher opposition to CASE in particular (and to Chicago's high-stakes testing programs in general) did not end with the attack on Substance (and the public's right to know) in January 1999. It went underground.
By September 2002, it had resurfaced, this time organized by a dozen high school teachers, some of whom were just beginning college when the original CASE controversies erupted four years earlier. When the "Curie 12" announced their intention to boycott CASE in their September 2002 letter to Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan, all of the issues that had been suppressed from the
public since Paul Vallas took Substance to court in January 1999 were back in the public domain, and CASE was again under close scrutiny.
Despite the controversies, the school board continued to pursue its controversial copyright infringement claims against Substance.
One of the ironies of the December 5, 2002, announcement that CASE was being ended was that on the morning of December 5, lawyers for Substance and the school board appeared in the courtroom of Magistrate Judge Edward Bobrick to
discuss pretrial discovery in the "copyright infringement" lawsuit, which is expected to go to trial in April or May 2003. Although the Chicago Board of Education has reduced its claim of damages from a high of $1.4 million to
$400,000, the case is still going before a jury in federal court, and the expensive legal work continues. Substance attorneys Alan Barinholtz, Mark Barinholtz, and Elaine Siegel, told Judge Bobrick on the morning of December 5 that they would be deposing board test officials Phil Hansen, Carole Perlman, and Bert Kouba during the week of December 9 and that they would be
flying out to California to take depositions from officials of the UCLA CRESST center during the week of December 16.
Chicago Board of Education attorney Nancy Laureto told Judge Bobrick that morning that she intended to take the deposition of this reporter on December 12, who continues to edit Substance. At no point during the court proceedings, which lasted 20 minutes, did Laureto indicate to the judge that her employer, the Chicago Board of Education, would be terminating the CASE
program less than five hours after she stood before him.
Additional information on CASE and the Substance litigation can be gotten from:
George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance (773-725-7502)
Alan Barinholtz, Attorney, 312-704-4000
Mark Barinholtz, Attorney, 312-704-4000
Elaine Siegel, Attorney, 312-236-8088
[This article may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit Substance
News, 5132 W. Berteau, Chicago, IL 60641. For further information, contact
Substance, 773-725-7502. A history of the CASE controversy is available on
the Substance website, www.substancenews.com]