Test Opposition Surges Across the Nation

K-12 Testing

Examiner Newsletter, March, 2013

A nationwide protest movement against the stranglehold of high-stakes testing on our schools has escalated to a rolling boil. Boycotts, opt-out campaigns, demonstrations, and community forums are among the tactics being pursued in cities such as Austin, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Denver and Providence. Meanwhile, the number of signers of the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing continues to grow.

In Washington, a boycott of the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, which began with teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School in January and spread to four other Seattle schools, drew support from educators, parents and students across the country. Teachers said they refused to administer the MAP because the exams cover material they are not expected to teach, they take too much time away from learning, especially for struggling students, and tie up computer labs for weeks. Faculty members also objected to the use of MAP test results to measure their effectiveness when they were not designed for that purpose, as the test publisher acknowledged.

Despite threats from the superintendent, teachers stood firm. Garfield students were to take some 810 tests, but teachers reported that by the end of the test-administration period there were only about 80 valid sets of results. More than 250 hundred parents exercised their right to opt their children out, another 100 students refused to take the tests, and many more essentially blew it off. When administrators came to pull students out for MAP testing, some classes had 100% refusal rates. Lower-ranking administrators also refused to proctor the exams. Principals, who often expressed their unhappiness, had to do the job.

On Feb. 6, designated a national day of action to support the boycott, Superintendent Jose Banda’s office was flooded with calls from across the country. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers weighed in, as did the Seattle NAACP. Garfield High’s parent-teacher and student organizations informed parents how to opt their students out of the testing. More than 60 education luminaries, including Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, joined by actor Matt Damon, signed a statement of support.  For more material on the Seattle boycotts, see also http://fairtest.org/seattle-teachers-boycott-tests.

Riding the wave of national opposition to testing misuse and overuse, the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing  surpassed 16,000 individuals and 500 organizations in February. There are signers from every state in the union plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, from cities, suburbs and rural communities. Many school boards have endorsed similar resolutions without taking the step of signing the national statement.

The Seattle action may have had the highest national profile, but it was far from the only testing protest this winter.

  • In February, two student unions in Portland organized a boycott of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test. The Portland Public Schools student union and the Portland Student Union protested the OAKS because it wastes resources and is not an accurate measure of student achievement. “We’re hoping to send a greater message to the Department of Education about how students really do care about our education,” said Portland student organizer Alexia Garcia.  “Over the years we’ve seen increased class sizes, less community control over our schools, and a movement towards standardization. We are standing up to say the system needs to change and public education needs to be better funded.”
  • In January, 45 Providence high school students rallied at the Rhode Island State House in opposition to a new requirement that students pass the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests to graduate high school. The class of 2014 would be the first to have to meet this requirement. “Punishing students—particularly those who haven’t had the opportunity to receive the great education we deserve—is neither effective nor just,” said Kelvis Hernandez, a Providence Student Union member. In February, members of the Providence Student Union staged a die-in to dramatize how using NECAP as a graduation test could snuff out opportunities for as many as 40% of Rhode Island and 60% of Providence high schoolers.
  • Students in Denver are organizing a walkout and boycott of the Colorado state test, the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP, for March 14. Darciann Samples, a Colorado Parent, National Board Certified Teacher and opt-out organizer, shared her experiences opting her son out of testing last year and her plans to do the same this year. She offered words of encouragement to other parents: “Simply state your case, in a letter or in person, and stand firm.  The less said, I believe, the better.  Don’t give them any openings to break down your thoughts or give you doubt.  You know your child, you know what is appropriate for your child, and you have the right to ensure that your wishes are upheld.”
  • Citing the example of the Seattle teacher boycott, Chicago parent and community organizations and the Chicago Teachers Union initiated a campaign in January to support local efforts to eliminate non-state mandated testing from schools. They launched a new website, “More than a Score.” Parents circulated petitions at 37 schools on February 6 demanding fewer tests and more transparency, using the effort to educate parents and teachers. They will continue collecting signatures in person and on-line, then deliver the petitions to the Chicago Board of Education in the spring. Organizers have held regular community forums across the city (including two featuring FairTest presenters), critiquing the tests, explaining authentic assessment, and building the movement.
  • In South Dakota, voters registered their opposition to the overuse and misuse of testing by overwhelmingly rejecting, 67% to 33%, the governor’s scheme to eliminate teacher tenure and institute a teacher bonus and merit pay system based on test results. The legislature had approved the plan, but when it was brought to voters as a ballot question, it was roundly defeated.
  • In Massachusetts, 160 professors and researchers have signed a statement that standardized tests “provide only one indicator of student achievement, and their high-stakes uses produce ever-increasing incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, or even to cheat.”  National early childhood education expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University, FairTest staff and Harvard graduate student Chris Buttimer initiated the statement.
  • Parent groups in New York, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere have continued to organize opt-out drives, including a large and successful campaign in New York against field tests of Pearson exams last spring. Organizers of opt-out campaigns in New York and elsewhere expect that the forthcoming Common Core assessments will create an even greater explosion of standardized testing and are preparing to educate and organize parents to respond.
  • The Texas resolution against high-stakes testing has now been endorsed by more than 85% of the state’s school boards. In response, legislators have introduced a flurry of bills aimed at cutting back the number of tests and the stakes attached to them, focusing particularly on graduation exams but potentially also scrapping grade promotion requirements. More than 10,000 people rallied in Austin in late February to call for an end to excessive high-stakes testing and an increase in aid to public education. And three former Texas Education Commissioners--Mike Moses, Jim Nelson, and Shirley Neeley--joined former Commissioner Robert Scott in publicly calling for less high-stakes standardized testing. It is early in the legislative year, but prospects for improvement are good.