Testing Protests Expand Across the Nation

K-12 Testing

Protests against high-stakes exams surged across the country this spring as grassroots groups in a dozen states staged events to voice their opposition to the increased use and misuse of standardized testing in public education. Ranging from small local gatherings to statewide rallies, the events were united by their denunciations of reliance on standardized test scores to determine whether students will be promoted to the next grade or receive a high-school diploma.


Parental resistance has grown steadily in response to high-stakes testing policies. More than 20 states now require students to pass an exit exam to receive a high school diploma. Several more will soon impose such requirements, though some other states are now retreating from such mandates (see story p.7).


Organizers of at least a dozen events collaborated through the Assessment Reform Network (ARN), a project based at FairTest. ARN now supplies technical assistance and other resources to over 30 state and local organizations across the country that work to improve assessment and accountability practices.


Rallies and Marches
• More than 1500 people, from both cities and suburbs, converged in a statewide demonstration in Albany, New York, on May 8 to oppose the state's use of the Regents exams to determine high school graduation and the growing power of state tests to undermine teaching and learning.


• A May 5 rally in Los Angeles, California, drew 300 people. The Coalition for Education Justice, which organized the event, urged city and state educational officials to protect students from "racist and class-biased high-stakes testing."


• Also on May 5, in Detroit, Michigan, the first rally sponsored by FREE, a coalition of parents, students, teachers and university professors, drew about 75 to call on the state legislature to "get rid of the MEAP," the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests.


• Rallies were held at opposite ends of Massachusetts. A hundred protesters attended a May 8 demonstration in Northampton, while 300 gathered on the Boston Common on May 15 at a rally initiated by the Students Coalition for Alternatives to the MCAS (SCAM) and sponsored by the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE) and other organizations.


• Arizona activists have been staging a series of smaller events, such as marches in Tempe in April carrying signs and letters addressed to state legislators, pickets at busy street intersections in Tucson, and leafleting at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Phoenix. Arizona officials have already backed off from this year's graduation test requirements.


• Other rallies were held in Austin, Texas; Olympia, Washington; and Columbus, Ohio.


Test boycotts
• Schools in dozens of California communities had low test participation as students and parents refused to take annual Stanford-9 state tests. These included 600 students at two high schools in wealthy Marin County, and dozens in largely low-income Oakland. Opting out of the tests is legal and has become common across California. Press reports said up to 90% opted out at some schools


• Close to 100 eighth and tenth grade students in Massachusetts protested the April test outside their schools, refused to answer the essay prompt on the test, or wrote their own essay on the exam explaining their opposition to the test. In May, when testing resumed, boycotts continued across the state. Though grade 10 students will have to pass the test to graduate (barring changes in policy), dozens of tenth graders boycotted. Hundreds of students in earlier grades in towns and cities across the state also refused to take the test.


• Nearly 200 middle grade parents in the affluent New York suburb of Scarsdale kept their children home on test day. Unusually, this boycott had the open support of the school system. Students in Rochester and Ithaca also refused the exams.


• In Washington state, about seventy high school families in the Vancouver area announced they would refuse to have the test administered to their children, using an "opt out" procedure allowed by state law. Students in other locales across the state also opted out.


• Wearing white shirts, jeans and badges bearing student identification numbers, about half of the students at Boulder Colorado's New Vista High School protested the first day of the Colorado Students Assessment Program tests (CSAP) in February, chanting "standardized tests produce standardized students."


• Across the nation, several teachers refused to administer standardized tests.


• Ad-hoc parent and teacher groups organized teach-ins in Sacramento, California, and Portland, Maine, to raise awareness about the harms of high-stakes standardized testing.


• In Virginia, parents conducted a variety of events in local neighborhoods across the state. At one local library, parents invited families to read and discuss children's books written about standardized tests.


• At a student-organized citywide conference in Boston, Massachusetts, participants in the Teen Empowerment program used music, skits, poems and stories to voice their views on the MCAS while urging state leaders to listen to the experiences youth have with the tests.


• A student-moderated forum at a high school in Panama City, Florida, screened a student-created TV advertisement and discussed the problems associated with use of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to grade and rank schools.


Next Steps
The visible rallies and boycotts are the tip of an "iceberg" of growing opposition to the misuse and overuse of flawed standardized tests. From small events in small towns to larger events in cities, the protesters represent the public face of many thousands of parents, students, teachers and others who are meeting, talking, petitioning and organizing to stop high-stakes testing.


Many of the organizations which sponsored rallies, boycotts and other events will continue to share experiences, research and information through the ARN, which connects groups through a national web site, email discussion groups, conferences and other activities. Contact information from organizers of the events, sample flyers and press releases can be found under "What's New" or the ARN page at www.fairtest.org, along with information about the ARN and participating organizations.