Testing Resistance & Backlash

K-12 Testing
More than 120 parent, teacher, and student delegates from across Massachusetts gathered at the first statewide convention of the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education, (CARE), the grassroots organization formed to end the use of the state’s MCAS exams to determine high-school graduation.


Delegates agreed to adopt a formal structure for the group and to direct increased focus on how the high-stakes exam discriminates against low-income, minority, bilingual, and special education children, and narrows curriculum for all students. CARE has developed a proposal for an authentic statewide assessment and accountability system to replace the high-stakes MCAS test (see Examiner, Fall 1999). The CARE plan was adapted into legislation filed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association last fall.


“It was inspiring to see people from all over the state and to strategize about where we're going from here,” said Ruth Kaplan, a Brookline parent and vice-chair of statewide Mass CARE. “We are not going away. We're in this for the long haul.”


• For more information and a copy of the CARE plan visit http://www.caremass.org/statements or call (857) 350-8207.


Washington State
A group of Washington State educators has filed an initiative that would require any candidate running for local or statewide office to take the state test required of all tenth grade students and to post their scores in the Voter’s Pamphlet and on the Secretary of State’s web site.  It would not require candidates to pass any or all sections of the test.


Designed as a protest against use of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) exams and their pending high-stakes use to determine graduation, educators who filed the initiative explained, “If the 10th grade WASL is a measure of what adults need to know and be able to do to be successful in our world, then would this not be the case for elected officials, too?” The group advocates replacing the exam with multiple assessments and providing adequate funding to all schools. Proponents must gather 200,000 signatures to put the initiative before Washington voters in November.


For more information email WASL@democracy.org, or contact David Marshak, 206-329-1282 or Doug Selwyn, 206-268-4616.


Text of the initiative and a press release are at http://www.fairtest.org/arn/parents.html


Oakland, California school committee member Wilda White introduced a resolution in early December that would enable the local school superintendent and the school board to cease funding all ”under-funded or un-funded state mandated costs” including but not limited to “state-mandated testing, assessment and evaluations.” The resolution also authorizes teachers and students to take a social studies field trip to Sacramento to attend and testify at the governor’s special budget session in January.The resolution, aimed partially at the high-stakes California STAR tests, was in response to recent cuts in state education spending enacted by California Governor Davis. A vote on the measure is expected in early 2002.


The Connecticut Education Association (CEA) issued a stern critique of the state’s Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), arguing that undue emphasis on the exam has eroded instruction and distracted attention from important subject areas. While the CMT is not used for high-stakes graduation or promotion decisions by the state, schools’ test scores are published in most newspapers, and schools receiving low scores are singled out by the state for intervention and sanctions.


Chief among the union’s complaints was that subject areas such as science, social students and the arts were being shortchanged due to a relentless focus on the math and English skills tested by the CMT. “I think we’re losing a well-balanced education, losing a love of learning, losing well rounded students,” said CEA President Rosemary Coyle.
The CEA also reported that teachers who work in schools with higher levels of poverty, student transience and non-English speaking students are unfairly labeled and penalized for their students’ lower scores, even though many such factors are beyond their control. In addition, pressure to raise scores results in a “drill and kill” approach to education in those schools.


An elementary school teacher in Gwinnet County, Georgia, who posted six questions from the county’s Gateway exam on the internet two years ago, faces revocation of his license. A case brought by the county against the teacher is being heard by an administrative law judge.


James Hope says he posted the questions to publicly expose the poor quality of the exam, which is used to determine grade promotion in county schools. “I was interrogated and harassed for trying to bring to parents the truth about a test that clearly does not do a good job of measuring students,” Hope said.


About 60 parents, teachers and students showed up at a hearing to support Hope’s action, which his lawyer says is permissible under the First Amendment.


A local Assessment Reform Network activist recently reported that due to continuing protests, the county recently dropped two of its four tests (see Examiner, Summer 2000).


New York
Parents in Scarsdale, New York who earned national attention for their boycott of New York’s Regents exams (see Examiner, Spring 2001) recently received a stern warning from State Education Commissioner Richard Mills: future boycotters will be punished.
In a letter to superintendents, Mills ordered school officials to sanction students who refuse to take the exam. Students could face detention, suspension or expulsion. Mills did not specify what penalties might be levied against school officials who refuse to abide by his directive except to say he expected “they will do the right thing.”


In a reply, Scarsdale Superintendent Michael McGill promised Mills that officials would not “encourage or assist any boycott,” and would do their best to stress the importance of the exams to parents.


About two-thirds of eighth-grade parents kept their children out of the exam last year, primarily to protest the test’s narrowing influence on curriculum and instruction. “These tests reduce content, they reduce imagination, they limit complex curriculum, they add stress and cost money,” said Deborah Rapaport, a parent who helped organize the boycott.


NY Court Loss
A New York judge denied a group of 28 schools from across the state the right to opt out of the Regents exam requirements. The schools sought to reinstate a waiver of the Regents exams that had been revoked by Commissioner Mills (see Examiner, Fall 2001).
Organized as the New York Performance Standards Consortium, the schools have battled state law requiring they use the Regents exams, arguing preparation for the tests forces them to abandon rigorous, in-depth curriculum.