Teachers Boycott Tests
FairTest Examiner, March 2009
Across North America, educators are resisting the imposition of unnecessary standardized exams. This January, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) initiated a boycott of the school district's "periodic" tests. Meanwhile, teachers in several Mexican states have organized widespread boycotts of their country’s national exam. And the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF), facing court sanctions that could have led to bankruptcy, called off a boycott of the provincial tests while vowing to continue working for assessment overhaul.
UTLA Vice President Julie Washington said of the widespread refusal, "The teachers love it." The union charges that the district tests "waste instructional time and have little or no instructional value," produce "junk data," and "contribute to student over-testing." Teachers have calculated that up to 25% of all schools days are lost in whole or part to testing requirements, depending on the grade..
Periodic tests, also known as "interim" or "benchmark" tests, have spread rapidly, especially in urban districts, in the wake of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Typically, they are constructed to predict scores on the annual state exam. Administered anywhere from three to ten times per year, their use leads to more intense narrowing of instruction to match the state test.
In a 2005 union referendum on testing, 80% of ULTA members supported a major reduction. In early January 2009, 500 union chapter chairs overwhelmingly supported calls for a boycott. On January 21, one of the "areas" within UTLA voted unanimously to refuse to administer the next periodic tests. Citywide union officers, who had called for the boycott to begin later, agreed it would start immediately. Superintendent Ray Cortines has not openly challenged the union, though the district's legal department claims the refusal violates their contract.
The actions are in part a tool in current contract negotiations. As part of the negotiations, UTLA leaders are calling on the district to drop some tests that the state does not mandate but encourages, and to make the periodic tests a school option.
- For updates, see www.utla.net.
According to reports delivered at a February meeting of the Initiative for Democratic Education in the Americas (IDEA), teachers unions in the Mexican states of Michoacan, Oaxaca and Puebla, along with some other teachers, are refusing to use the mostly multiple-choice national tests known as Enlace. These are aimed at students in grades 3-6 plus some middle and high school students, with plans to include younger children. Enlace scores also are tools for evaluating teachers and can be used to create differential pay systems.
The Mexican national teachers union endorses the government's Alliance for the Quality of Education, which includes testing for certifying teachers and checking student performance. Opposition is growing, however, often led by state-level unions at odds with the national union:
- Michoacan teachers are nearly universally refusing to administer national and state exams. A network of 18 schools has worked for more than a decade to create their own curriculum and assessments. The network is expanding to 42 schools, and 85% of the state's schools use some of the materials.
- In Oaxaca, 700 union delegates met and decided not to administer the tests this year. Teachers are developing their own curriculum and assessments integrated with their various communities, particularly of indigenous people.
- In the autonomous Zapatista areas in Chiapas, educators are working with community members to build new education systems, including assessments. The Zapatista zones are the result of an indigenous uprising in the 1990s.
- Puebla's union also has been organizing refusals to administer the tests, while the Mexico City union has included opposition to the tests in its battles with the national union.
In addition, students have been resisting the use of national standardized tests to determine college entrance, with some success in Mexico City (see Examiner, June 1999). The National University (UNAM) uses its own exams, while the city university (UAM) has no entrance tests.
Enlace scores correlate closely with socio-economic status, with indigenous people scoring at the bottom. The intensification of high-stakes testing promoted by the government is associated with efforts to close teacher colleges and increase privatization of education.
The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) has consistently opposed the province's Foundation Skills Assessments (FSA), charging they are educationally unhelpful and misused to rank schools. A proposed boycott, approved by 85% of BCTF members, led to a court decision declaring any boycott an illegal strike. Since this would be the second strike declared illegal in recent years, the union faced significant fines and the threat of bankruptcy.
As a fallback position, BCTF is encouraging parents to exempt their children, which they have the right to do. The union also informed its members that they do not have to administer any "practice tests."
BCTF supports authentic assessment based in and integral to instructional practice. It opposes the FSA tests because they “do not help students learn or teachers teach.”
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