Seventh graders in the Chicago Public School District (CPS) in Illinois may no longer need to take on an anti-immigration position now that the school district has temporarily pulled four questions from its district-wide end-of-the-year test, according to WBEZ, a Chicago-based public radio station. The questions on the REACH test — a measure used to evaluate student growth and teacher performance — would have required students to support the stronger of two anti-immigration arguments written by fictional experts, a seemingly offensive task in a district where a high proportion of students are immigrants, or children of immigrants.
The 40-minute performance task requires students to write an “argumentative essay” and to “select one source that is the most authoritative and relevant to support your argument opposing a pathway to citizenship.”
One editorial is written by Arie Payo, a fictional aide to President Bush’s Immigration Taskforce, who argues, “I dream of a time when we ban all new immigrants to America both legal and illegal. America is already too crowded. If we continue to allow outsiders to come into our country, there will be severe overcrowding … I think it is best to keep America for Americans and those who know how to speak English properly. Save America for those of us who know how to behave in law abiding ways. I object to any effort to give rights to any[one] who come[s] here illegally or came with another person who came illegally. They should go back to where they came from.”
The other argument titled, “The Dream Act is a Nightmare” is in the form of an interview with a woman named Stella Luna, a hypothetical small business owner. The argument says, “Ms. Luna also raised the concern that if illegal immigrants are all given citizenship, they would then be able to have additional family members come to the United States. She said, ‘All these new immigrants would take jobs from those who are already here and drive down the wages of current workers.’ Ms. Luna worries that giving citizenship to undocumented immigrants would increase the number of poor people living in our town.”
CPS spokesperson Joel Hood responded in an email to ThinkProgress on Wednesday that “this specific exercise was intended for students to evaluate the authority and point of view of sources. Teaching children the importance of diversity, acceptance, and independent thinking are important values at CPS. We apologize for any misunderstanding and have provided librarians an alternative test to administer to students.”
About 32 students from two different schools took the test before it was temporarily pulled and replaced with an alternative test on climate change, according to More Than A Score, an advocacy group comprised of people who are “frustrated with the scale, expense, and consequences of the testing regime in CPS.” WBEZ found out that the district has allowed teachers to continue using the question so long as they administer the test with an “addendum” read aloud by the teacher. In its addendum, the CPS asked teachers to remind students that another REACH performance task had been administered at the beginning of the year in which students had to judge the better of two pro-immigration arguments. Although the CPS addendum explained to students, “your opinion on what the author thinks about immigration reform, is not the central issue,” the test has offended even Illinois GOP leaders like Jay Reyes who told WBEZ that the test was “nonsense.” Reyes, a Republican state central committeeman, called the test “an unfair, uninformed take on a Republican viewpoint.”
At least 33.8 percent of Illinois’ immigrants live in Chicago and nearly one in seven Illinois residents are immigrants, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The Pew Hispanic Center also found that there are 525,000 undocumented immigrants living in Illinois, and they make up about one-third of the state’s population of immigrants. What’s more, Chicago Now found that at least 86 percent of enrollees in the Chicago Public Schools come from low-income families.
Other school districts have similarly evaluated student skills using controversial and sometimes offensive material. In February, the Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland pulled a classroom skit after one parent was offended by the premise of the “Uninvited Guest” in which the character Uncle Sam tells people that he doesn’t welcome undocumented immigrants and “drug addicts or drug traffickers.” In 2011, a Duluth, Georgia teacher assigned a third-grade class to circle the appropriate multiple choice answer to the question, “What does the U.S. do with illegal aliens?”