Laura Flanders Show Video: The privatization of public schools & the biggest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history

I recently was a guest on the Laura Flanders Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 10.50.43 AMShow to discuss the factors contributing to the mass opt out movement that has developed around the nation, now the largest uprising in U.S. history against high-stakes, standardized testing (see the below video).

I have been traveling around the country on my book tour for More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing and meeting with an outpouring of people looking for inspiration and organizational strategies for resisting the testocracy. Last week I spoke to packed audiences in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago where parents, students, and teachers turned my book reading event into an organizing session to forge connections and relationships that will undoubtedly lead to new testing boycotts.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 10.51.09 AMIn my home town of Seattle, we are already seeing the greatest number of opt outs in our city’s history with so many hundreds of opt outs of the new common core tests at my school that the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the test. At Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School, 100% of the school’s 11th graders opted out of the 11th grade Common Core test!

During the past year students have refused to take high-stakes tests at unprecedented rates. The largest walkout against high-stakes tests in U.S. history happened this school year in Colorado when more than 5,000 students refused the new end-of-course exams and rallied to express their view that standardized testing is eroding the quality of public education.   Then in New Mexico in March, over one thousand students walked out out of school against the Common Core PARCC test.

But it is in New York State where the revolt has truly reached a mass scale. Preliminary reports show over 180,000 NY families have opted their children out of Common Core testing in an unprecedented act of mass rebellion that is proelling the “Education Spring.” This collective act of struggle to defend students’ civil rights has the power to challenge NY Gov. Como’s test and punish policies—most recently enacting policy that mandates 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to the state tests.

In the first part of the Laura Flanders Show I explain the dynamics contributing to this uprising, but it is theScreen Shot 2015-04-22 at 8.47.46 PM second half of the show, “Perfect Storm,” that explains what the real high-stakes are if our movement doesn’t win. This expose explains how the testocracy moved into New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, labeled the schools failing, and converted 100 percent of the public schools into privatized charter schools.   This is the vision that the testocracy has for the rest of nation: label our schools, students, and teachers failing so as to erode one of the last free and public institutions left in the U.S. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, even went so far as to say Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” Thankfully, New Orleans parent advocates such as Karran Harper Royal, who is interviewed in the segment, have exposed that charter schools have not improved education in the city and have organized to defend the public schools.

Watch the Laura Flanders Show’s portrayal of two possible futures: the end of public education or the mass rebellion of students, parents, and teachers against the testocracy. Then pick which of these futures awaits our nation.

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Garfield High School Teacher Heather Robison’s Conscientious Test Objector Declaration

Today marks the first day scheduled for Common Core testing, such as it is, at Seattle’s Garfield High School. As I reported last week, Garfield educators were debating about how best to oppose the new deeply flawed Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core tests, when the parents spoke and opted out hundreds of students from the test. With so many students having opted out of the Common Core tests, the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the exam—a huge victory in this struggle against the testocracy! (Now the few remaining students who don’t have an opt out letter will be pulled out of class individually).


Garfield High School teacher Heather Robison delivers her declaration at a recent press conference.

During the period when Garfield teachers thought they were going to be asked to administer the SBAC Common Core test, Heather Robison, an inspiration in the struggle for authentic assessment, decided she would be a conscientious test objector. What fallows is Ms. Robison’s courageous and deeply insightful declaration, issued to the Seattle Public Schools and the politicians who legislate education–with a challenge for them to take the very exams they are pushing on our schools!

Once you have read Ms. Robison’s words, it will be clear that educators should be driving assessment rather than multibillion-dollar companies. And it should also be clear why we are going to win this struggle.

 Dear Superintendent Nyland, Seattle Public School Board, Legislators, and educational policy makers,

I am a National Board Certified teacher with a Master’s Degree in English and two years of Doctoral-level coursework in Curriculum and Instruction. I have twelve years of teaching experience, ten working in public high schools and two at the University level. I am passionate in my work, and have rigorous expectations for my students and myself.

I currently teach at Garfield High School, where half of my day is spent with Advanced Placement students who represent some of the most privileged and highest performing children in our city. The other half of my day is spent with General Education students, over a quarter of whom receive Special Education services. Across all sections, I have homeless students, students with restraining orders against abusers, students who read and write below grade level, students who currently read and write at a college level, and students who vacation in Europe every spring.

From this vantage point, my conscience demands that I publicly and emphatically assert that high-stakes standardized tests like the SBA used as graduation requirements and teacher evaluations tools are detrimental to the meaningful education of ALL of my students. Administering such exams goes against my professional and moral judgment.

For ALL of my students, these tests are a waste of time in which they are forced to be passive test-takers rather than active knowledge creators. This year’s proposed test took over two weeks of instructional time from classes. Superintendent Nyland, a recent email from you stated, “the amount of SBA testing time for each individual student is relatively small (about eight hours depending on grade level).” What a drastically skewed perspective that sentence reveals. Eight hours is an enormous time investment for an unreliable and inappropriately used assessment, enough to push an entire unit from the year’s curriculum.

For my students who are victims of the opportunity gap, the SBA disproportionately hurts their identity as capable learners and instead reinforces an identity of failure. These exams can only ever show a limited sample of student ability, and the cultural bias inherent in any standardized assessment exacerbates the SBA’s inability to reveal what my students truly know and can do.

Even if the SBA were a more reliable, valid, and culturally responsive measure of student ability, the learning environment created around it devalues true intellectual curiosity, risk-taking, and critical thinking. For ALL of my students, high-stakes tests breed a reductive mindset of “Will this be on the test?” and myopic focus on points rather than learning.

Yet students crave authentic challenges, and on a gut level they recognize the faults of a test-based system. When I first announced the upcoming SBA exams to my 11th graders, multiple hands shot up and asked, “Can we opt out of this?” These are high-performing students who are the most likely to succeed on this test, yet they were frustrated at the prospect of losing class time for this detached and inauthentic measure of their performance.

Measures that identify students in need of extra help are an essential part of an effective education system, but they must not be attached to high stakes. Doing so invalidates them as a true diagnostic tool intended to help children and their teachers.

We need high standards for our educational systems, and we must do more to prepare all of our students to be successful in a demanding and complex world. Exams like the SBA do not take us in that direction. My teaching practice and that of my peers asks students to do far more than these exams do. We crave authentic and challenging modes of assessment.

Please consider the work of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has opted out of standardized tests since 1997 and instead built an assessment system developed, evaluated, and continually revised by actual educators. Instead of taking tests, students are given ownership of their own project-based learning, which includes evaluation by community professionals in the discipline. This group of schools has some of the highest rates of college admittance with one of the lowest rates of college attrition. Their success was achieved with a true range of students pulled from the economic and cultural diversity of New York City neighborhoods.

Standardized exams like the SBA also rob teachers of critical aspects of the assessment process. As educators, taking part in the design of assessment tasks for students and evaluating them in a collaborative and peer-reviewed process is an essential part of best practices. The SBA compartmentalizes and fractures this dynamic process and cuts teachers off from invaluable information and opportunities for reflection about their students and their tools of instruction and assessment.

Policy makers—in teaching and learning there are no shortcuts. Exams like the SBA attempt to shortcut, streamline, and profitize the education system. This benefits test makers, but not students. The schools are a reflection of the social problems of the larger society. If we truly want to close the gaps and inequities in our social institutions, we must address issues of poverty and income inequality. That is a tall order, but the work of the Consortium schools shows an alternative that can offer meaningful success for ALL students.

At home I have a three-year-old son. He is an exuberant, boundary-pushing little boy who will enter kindergarten the fall of 2016. I feel such anxiety at the thought of subjecting him to a learning environment founded on SBA.  He is filled with joy and innate curiosity to learn and experiment, a joy that I seek to coax alive in my own students.

I challenge you to go online and take the practice tests of the SBA. Compare that experience to the approach of New York Consortium schools. Which would you prefer for your own child?

Finally, please listen to me. Please recognize my expertise and consider my professional opinion. I work to challenge my students and myself with research-supported best practices for ALL students. Trust and consider the informed opinion of so many of my peers who ask to end high-stakes testing. On a daily basis, we see the damage testing wreaks on our efforts for authentic education, and the disproportionate damage inflicted on our most vulnerable students.


Heather Robison

SBA practice exams:

New York Standards Performance Consortium

Common Core Testing Meltdown in Seattle: Teachers speak out on technological breakdowns, loss of class time, & civil rights violations

Before the testing season began, educators in Seattle knew that because of the lack of proper preparations, IT support, technological upgrades, and training – and due to the outlandish number of tests administered this year – testing pandemonium would ensue. Last week the Social Equality Educators (SEE) put a call out for teachers to share their stories of this first year of Common Core, “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC), testing in the schools. The numerous responses from teachers and parents around the school district describe standardized testing chaos. We heard many stories about SBAC testing that are common to high-stakes, standardized tests: the tests dramatically disrupted the educational process, deprived students of hours of instructional time, reduced stressed out students to tears, and monopolized the computer labs and libraries in service of test administration for weeks at a time. As one teacher from a North Seattle school reported,

Teachers in rooms with computers have been forced out of their rooms for a week for SBAC.  Our computer labs have been unavailable due to SBAC testing of sophomores. This week we have 2 hour late arrivals Mon-Thurs so juniors can take SBAC.  All other classes loose 8 hours of instruction.

And there were many more stories of complete testing meltdown that have made the SBAC testing particularly outrageous.  Most egregious, teachers from multiple schools reported that the glossary provided for ELL students taking the SBAC test is not translated into all the languages our students speak. As a teacher from the World School–the school that takes in recent immigrants to Seattle who don’t yet speak English–reported:

The one thing noted already at our staff meeting is that there are no translations of directions, for example, in any of the African languages. Yet, there are some in other languages. There’s no French either and some of our African students speak French.

The fact that there are no glossaries translated into any African language is a clear violation of students rights and a stark example of institutional racism in the schools.

Moreover, educators have reported technological breakdowns with the online administration of the SBA. At several schools students lost two days of class time, futilely attempting to log on to the exam—only to find out that the state had forgotten to upload the test on time! As one teacher from a South Seattle school wrote to me,

We have encountered a few problems with the SBAC site. We were unable to test the 11th grade students this morning (in math). We have also had computers that got frozen. We decided to give them the interim performance task and CAT as practice. Many of them rushed through it and didn’t take it seriously. The ones that did take it seriously finished both the Performance task and the CAT in about 3 hours.

But perhaps the most upsetting loss of class time due to Common Core SBAC testing is described in the letter below. This teacher asked that her name and school be omitted from this report because of the hostile environment that the Seattle School district has created in issuing threats to teachers who oppose high-stakes testing.

Students spent a total of 6 hours completing the first half of the [Common Core] testing they are required to do. Students are being asked to navigate confusing split screens; drag, drop, and highlight; and type extended responses. They are being asked to demonstrate their learning in a completely different way than how they have acquired it. The district has said that the amount students are expected to type is not overwhelming. However, students are being asked to type an entire essay, several paragraphs long, on the computer. Our school does not have a technology teacher and not all students have computer access at home, so many students have not learned computer or keyboarding skills. I watched more than one student hitting the space bar over and over because they did not know how to go down to the next line to start a new paragraph.

I was so proud of my students for working through the test and trying their hardest, despite the challenges. We were all glad when a long week of testing was over and we could get back to learning. We later learned that the directions we received from the district about how to access the test and what the test was called were incorrect. This meant that an entire grade took the wrong test and were then required to retake it. We were told that this was not an isolated incident but had occurred at several schools. The look on my students’ faces when I told them we had to do the test again was heart-breaking.

Due to the challenges students have had navigating the testing interface, I question the developmental appropriateness and the equity of this test. Due to the many issues we’ve seen with the rollout this year, I question the validity of this test to evaluate our schools, our teachers, and our students.

This story of students losing a two weeks of school because they were given the wrong test—reportedly in at least several Seattle schools—is nothing short of scandalous. The inequality built into a test that favors students with computing skills developed at home is unfair.

It should be no wonder why Seattle is currently experiencing the largest number of opt outs in the city’s history. High-stakes testing is degrading education in countless ways. The billionaires have had their turn with the schools. It’s time to return assessment back to educators—and the joy back to learning.

“Opt out now”: The Seattle NAACP revives the legacy W.E.B Du Bois, demands an end to Common Core testing

“…the Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.” -Gerald Hankerson, current President of the Seattle/King County NAACP “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [first] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.” –W.E.B Du Bois, Co-founder of the NAACP

Seattle NAACP President Gerald Hankerson addresses the SBAC press conference.

On Tuesday, April 7, 2015 Gerald Hankerson, the President of the Seattle/King County NAACP and Rita Green, the Education Chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP, began our press conference with a powerful idea and a call for action that holds the potential to help produce a tremendous social transformation. Together their opening remarks at the press conference—a gathering of parents, teachers, and community leaders that I helped to organize in opposition to the Common Core “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC) tests—represent a clarion call to both education advocates and social justice activists across the country. Their simple, yet mighty, proposition is that the movement to oppose high-stakes standardized testing and the Black Lives Matter movement (and other struggles against oppression) should and can unite in a great uprising in service of transforming our schools into an environment designed to nurture our children, in body and intellect, rather than to rank, sort, and reproduce institutional racism.

Seattle NAACP President Hankerson (font left) and Education Chair Rita Green (front right) with supporters outside of the press conference.

Hankerson, kicking off the event, referenced the “long and ugly history” of using standardized tests in an effort to establish white supremacy. This is a history that the corporate “testocracy” is desperate to insure remains hidden from the public, as the uncovering of this history would bury their attempts to claim that standardizing testing is the key to closing the “achievement gap.” As the social justice education periodical Rethinking Schools recently editorialized,

“Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.”

One of these early eugenicists was Carl Brigham, a professor at Princeton University and author of the white supremacist manifesto, A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham left Princeton during WWI to develop and administer IQ tests used to sort the grunt soldiers, who would be used as cannon fodder, from the officers who would oversee the war. Upon the conclusion of the war, Brigham returned to Princeton and developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT, that came to be used as a gatekeeper to Princeton. Soon standardized tests became commonplace in the public schools. As Alan Stoskepf wrote,by the early 1920s, more than 2 million American school children were being tested primarily for academic tracking purposes. At least some of the decisions to allocate resources and select students for academic or vocational courses were influenced by eugenic notions of student worth.” It should be no surprise, then, that some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. In a statement that that is still denied by the testocracy today, Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote:

But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.

Bond was expressing then what is now called the “Zip Code Effect,”—the fact that what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture, resulting in wealthier, and predominately whiter, districts scoring better on tests. Of course you would expect the testocracy—mostly comprised of billionaires and the politicians who protect them—to ignore the history and powerful message of these early 20th century Black intellectuals who were in the struggle against the impacts of inequality on the schools. But what saddens me is that the national NAACP organization today has forgotten one of the most important lessons of its founder, the great W.E.B. Du Bois —one of the towering figures in the history of the struggle against both racism and standardized testing. Recently, the national NAACP came out in support of maintaining the requirement of annual standardized testing for the reauthorization of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. But as Seattle/King County NAACP Education Chair, Rita Green, stated at the press conference, “If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.” With President Hankerson and Education Chair Green’s direction, the Seattle NAACP is reviving the great lessons of the Black struggle and advocating for the kind of direct action against injustice that propelled the civil rights movement. President Hankerson concluded his opening statement (watch the full video of the press conference here) with these unequivocal words:

“It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians being accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. We are calling on all parents to opt out and opt out now!”

Here then is the entire statement of the Seattle/King County NAACP on SBAC Common Core testing:

It is the position of the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP to come out against the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, commonly referred to as SBAC. Seattle and Washington State public schools are not supplied with proper resources and a lack of equity within our schools continue to exist. The State of Washington cannot hold teachers responsible for the outcome of students test results; when these very students are attending schools in a State that ranks 47th out of 50 States in the Nation when it comes to funding education. Furthermore, Washington State cannot expect the majority of students to perform well on increased targeted performance assessments while the State continues to underfund education in direct violation of a Washington State Supreme Court Order. We also know that our students of color are disproportionately underfunded and will disproportionately be labeled failing by the new SBAC test.  For this reason, we view the opt out movement as a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice.  Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history.  It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians be accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers. We urge families to opt out of the SBAC test and to contact their local and state officials to advise them to abide by the State Supreme Court McCleary decision to fully fund education. –Rita Green, MBA; Seattle King County NAACP Education Chair

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Garfield High School educators thank Nathan Hale High School for their resistance to Common Core testing

Below is the thank you letter that educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School wrote to Nathan Hale High School for their courage in taking the lead in the movement to oppose the new “Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Common Core Tests.  Their example helped inspire Garfield to win a major victory against the SBA test, and has helped ignite the opt out movement around Seattle.  Seattle’s opt out movement is now the largest in the city’s history.  Thank you Nathan Hale!

Garfield High School’s open thank you letter to Nathan Hale on the Smarter Balanced Assessment

To the educational community of Nathan Hale High School,

We are writing to congratulate you for taking a bold stand against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing. Your school Senate’s vote to oppose the SBA has helped many all across Seattle find the courage to join this growing movement for authentic assessments. We educators at Garfield High School also find great objection to the SBA, including:

  • Loss of instructional time

Projections estimate that the SBA will take students some 9 hours to complete. However, our colleagues at schools around Seattle have reported that the SBA is taking much longer. This is an unacceptable loss of class and learning time.

  • Failure and demoralization by design

The SBAC and our state’s politicians agreed on a “cut score”—meaning the score that indicates if a student has not passed the exam—which they project will fail at least 60% of students in math and reading. Educators and our professional organization were not consulted about the cut scores, revealing that their determination was a political decision rather than an educational one. We believe in high expectations and supporting our students to reach ambitious goals. We do not believe in rushing to implement an exam—one that has not even yet been shown to be reliable by the test maker’s own admission—that will result in mass failure and demoralization of children.

  • Loss of library and computer labs

In addition to students losing class time to take the test, our computer labs are monopolized for weeks with test taking and cannot be used for educational purposes. Because we have a computer lab in the library, the library is shuttered for learning and research while the SBA is administered. This disproportionately impacts students from lower income families who are more likely not to have computers or Internet at home. We object to our educational resources being squandered in this way.

  • Technological breakdowns

The needed technology and IT support was not implemented and schools have reported technological breakdowns with the online administration of the SBA. We know of several Seattle schools where students have lost hours futilely attempting to log on to the exam. At other schools the wrong codes were given to administrators of the test and students wasted an entire week administering what turned out to only be the practice exam and they are now required to spend another week taking the actual SBA. The failure to properly equip the Seattle schools with the training, technological upgrades, and the IT support needed to administer the SBA is evidence that our district is not ready for the exam.

  • SBA is not a valid test

The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has confirmed that the Smarter Balanced Assessment has not yet been shown to be a valid test. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium acknowledged this in a recent memo where they wrote that they have not yet determined the “external validity” of the exam.

  • Special Needs Students negatively impacted

Students receiving extra support—our English Language Learners, Special Education students, and students in math support—are especially negatively impacted by the over testing that the SBA is contributing to. These students are in need of MORE instructional time and will lose more precious class time hours to the SBA. As well, the glossary provided for ELL students taking the SBA is not translated into all the languages our students speak, most notably none of the African languages—a clear violation of the students’ rights and further indication of the invalidity of the exam.

As a result of the above considerations, Garfield’s staff takes the following positions on assessment and the SBA:

  • Authentic assessment

While we oppose the SBA, we want to be clear that we in no way oppose assessment. We believe that assessing student learning is a vital component of an effective classroom and a high preforming school system. This is why Garfield teachers joined a city-wide teacher created organization (along with representatives from Nathan Hale) in 2013 called, “The Teacher Work Group on Assessment” which created guidelines called “Markers of Quality Assessment” that defined authentic assessments as those that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test-taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class, and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow students opportunities to go back and improve; and undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators. Since then Garfield educators have begun to research, develop, and implement authentic forms of assessment in order to scaffold student learning and advance the understanding of a given concept (as reported in the Seattle Times and documented in the forthcoming film, “Beyond Measure”).

  • Educators have a professional responsibility to oppose flawed testing

Creating an education system that supports students to reach their potential will require educators asserting their professional expertise about flawed exams. We are fortunate that at Garfield there is a high level of consciousness about limitations of high-stakes testing and the SBA. In fact, the students who are being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade.

At Garfield students already take the state HSPE exam, the ELA, the EOCs, the AP test, the PSAT, the SAT, and others. The over use of standardized testing was one of the things that led the staff at Garfield High School, and several other schools, to refuse to administer the MAP test. When we took our stand against the MAP test, Nathan Hale educators sent us a statement of support that meant a lot to us–and it was collective action and the power of solidarity that was finally able to scrap the MAP test. Can you imagine the conditions we would be facing if educators, parents and students hadn’t boycotted the MAP test and the Superintendent hadn’t rescinded the MAP testing requirement? If the MAP was still mandated for high schools it would require an additional two to three standardized tests per year, resulting in hours more of lost instructional time.

  • Parents have the right to decide what is best for their children

This year we have had so many parents flood the school with opt out forms that teachers don’t have to decide whether we should administer the exam or not because there aren’t enough students who have been given permission from their parents to take the test to warrant taking whole classes to the computer lab to administer the exam. Parents exercising their right to opt out have allowed us to retain valuable instructional time. This mass opt out strategy of parents is a victory for student learning because it will allow teachers to keep teaching.

Nathan Hale, thank you for taking the first step in demanding the very best in assessment for all students. The thoughtful process and the through research you conducted around the SBA raised awareness for everyone in the city about the pitfalls of the SBA. By raising this issue you have helped speed up that day when all of our students are evaluated with assessments designed to understand their thought process, nurture a love of learning, and promote critical thinking, rather than simply to punish.


Staff members at Garfield High School

Seattle’s Garfield High School Opt Out Movement Scores Huge Victory over “Smarter Balanced” Common Core testing!

What will happen at Garfield High School with Common Core testing? I have been asked this question by people all over the country as they learned that this would be the first year that Common Core testing would come to Washington State. All year, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School have debated whether to administer the new Common Core test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). Garfield High School became a leader in the movement for authentic assessment in 2013 when the staff voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, and were joined by the parents and students in a mass opt out campaign. After the tested subject teachers were threatened with a ten day suspension without pay for refusing to administer the MAP, the superintendent finally gave in at the end of the school year and announced that the test would no longer be mandatory at the high school level. Many took inspiration from the MAP test boycott, and during the ensuing months an “education spring” was born as students, parents, and teacher’s refused high-stakes testing across the country. This ongoing education spring has now produced the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history, highlighted by the 60,000 students who were opted out in New York State alone. Many teachers at Garfield knew that as a faculty that helped ignite the struggle for authentic assessment, it was important to send a clear message against the new SBA testing that in many ways is worse that the MAP test. Then Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School Senate—the governing body of the school comprised of educators, administrators, parents, and students—announced that the school was going to refuse to administer the SBA test. This was a huge inspiration for our staff, but then the Superintendent of the Seattle Schools issued public statement that threatened to suspend teachers who gave notice that they would refuse to administer a standardized tests—and terminate the teaching licenses of any teacher who refused to administer a test without giving notice. This threat gave Garfield’s staff pause—and yet some of my courageous colleagues continued to express that they would join the “Teachers of Conscience” movement. Then an amazing thing happened. Parents began organizing a mass opt out campaign. The Garfield PTSA invited Dr. Wayne Au, author of “Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality,” to explain the problems with the SBA. We soon realized that the students who were being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade back in 2013! I am excited to announce that the parent opt out campaign at Garfield High School has resulted in 221 students already opting out of the 11th grade SBA with two weeks to go before the test is supposed to be administered! In fact, so many students have opted out of the Common Core tests that the decision whether to administer the test or not was taken away from Garfield educators; with so many opt outs, the majority students in every class wouldn’t be taking the exam and therefore it is against the testing rules to have them in the computer lab while the test is being administered. What this means is that the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the exam and instead the school administration will have to pull the individual students out who will be taking the test and take them to the computer lab. The fact that we have scored this resounding victory against Common Core testing, before the mass flunking of our students with an invalid test, is a wonderful thing. And it isn’t only Garfield and Nathan Hale—hundreds of students have opted out of the SBA test at Ingraham High School, and Roosevelt High School. In fact, with dozens of schools across Seattle with parents reporting opt outs, the city is now experiencing the most opt outs in its history. These tests are designed to obscure the things that matter most—such as collaboration towards a common goal. Seattle’s educational leaders at schools across Seattle are teaching an immeasurable lesson by demonstrating the power of collective action against injustice.

“Test-imony”: Dr. Wayne Au’s address to Washington State Legislature against new teacher evaluation bill

Politicians in Washington State are attempting to reduce educators to lifeless bits of inaccurate data. House Bill ESSB 5748, which would explicitly link teacher evaluation to standardized test scores, was recently introduced into the Washington State Legislature.  Dr. Wayne Au, the University of Washington Bothell’s 2015 Distinguished Teaching award winning professor, joined scores of others in Olympia on Monday, March 30th, to express opposition to this educationally unsound proposal.  In fact, there were so many there that wanted to use their testimony to “test-defy,” that after both sides had presented arguments, there were still 322 more people who wanted to speak against the bill but there wasn’t enough time.  After Au’s schooling, the full transcript of which appears below, at least these politicians can’t plead that they were ignorant of the unscientific approach and harmful effects that tying teachers’ evaluation to tests scores will have on intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning. Professor Au sent me the following preface to his testimony:

I was invited to testify by Representative Sharon Tomiko-Santos, Chair of the Washington State House of Representatives Education Committee. She wanted me to bring a research-based perspective to the discussion of ESSB 5748, which would explicitly link teacher evaluation to standardized test scores. The audience was the Education Committee, so one thing I want readers to know is that I was making an argument to folks who believe the tests are a valid measure. Plus I only had 2 minutes to testify, which means a lot of arguments that could have been made had to be omitted due to time constraints. So while there are so many good arguments to make against using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, I had to choose a few particularly clear and sharp ones that I thought would be the best at directly challenging the ESSB 5478. Also I want to publicly thank my partner, Dr. Mira Shimabukuro, for her help in the editing and crafting of the final statement.

Dr. Wayne Au’s Testimony to the Washington State House Education Committee Regarding House Bill ESSB 5748, March 30, 2015

Members of the House Education Committee, I am Dr. Wayne Au, an Associate Professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell. I am here today as an individual citizen, a parent of a future public school student, and a nationally and internationally known scholar with expertise in education policy and high-stakes testing. I am testifying today to share my concern about using standardized test scores to evaluate teacher performance. The logic of using test scores to evaluate teachers seems like commonsense: A teacher teaches, a student learns, a test is given, and the test score shows the effectiveness of teaching. However, this logic falls apart in the face of research. For instance, using test scores in teacher evaluation has produced large statistical errors. Based on a single year’s scores, one major study by the U.S. Department of Education found a 1 in 3 chance of mislabeling a proficient teacher as not proficient.[1] Other research has found wild, year-to-year swings in teacher ratings based on test scores, where teachers highly rated one year dropped to the bottom, and teachers poorly rated shot to the top, the next year. This inconsistency suggests that the tests are measuring the changing, year-to-year demographics of students as opposed to measuring the ongoing effectiveness of teachers.[2] Finally, we have known for decades that non-school, poverty-related factors like lack of adequate healthcare, food insecurity, and housing insecurity, account for up to 70% of an individual student’s test score. The impact of teachers on test scores pales in comparison to the impact of such broader social and economic issues.[3] Given problems such as these,[4] leading educational researchers[5] and the American Statistical Association[6] have warned against using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Unfortunately the U.S. Department of Education refuses to pay attention to these experts and continues to push such a fundamentally wrong-headed policy. The State of Washington should not follow their lead. Thank you.

Notes Other research resources on using high-stakes, standardized testing to evaluate teachers: Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2008). Methodological concerns about the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS). Educational Researcher, 37(2), 65-75. doi: 10.3102/0013189X08316420. Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2014). Rethinking value-added models in education: Critical Perspectives on tests and assessment-based accountability. New York: Routledge. Amrein-Beardsley, A., & Collins, C. (2012). The SAS Education Value-Added Assessment System (SAS® EVAAS®) in the Houston Independent School District (HISD): Intended and unintended consequences. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 20(12), 1-36. Au, W. (2010). Neither fair nor accurate: Research based reasons why high-stakes tests should not be used to evaluate teachers. Rethinking Schools, 25(2), 34–38. Baker, B. D., Oluwole, J. O., & Green, P. C. (2013). The legal consequences of mandating high stakes decisions based on low quality information: Teacher evaluation in the Race-to-the-Top era. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21(5), 1-71. Berliner, D. C. (2014). Exogenous variables and value-added assessments: A fatal flaw. Teachers College Record, 116(1). Briggs, D. & Domingue, B. (2011). Due diligence and the evaluation of teachers: A review of the value-added analysis underlying the effectiveness rankings of Los Angeles Unified School District Teachers by the Los Angeles Times. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Collins, C., & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2014). Putting growth and value-added models on the map: A national overview. Teachers College Record, 16(1). Corcoran, S. P. (2010). Can teachers be evaluated by their students’ test scores? Should they be? The use of value-added measures of teacher effectiveness in policy and practice. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform. Darling-Hammond, L., Amrein-Beardsley, A., Haertel, E., & Rothstein, J. (2012). Evaluating teacher evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(6), 8-15. Gabriel, R. & Lester, J. N. (2013). Sentinels guarding the grail: Value-added measurement and the quest for education reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21(9), 1-30. Glass, G. V. (1990). Using student test scores to evaluate teachers. In Jason Millman & Linda Darling-Hammond (Eds.), The new handbook of teacher evaluation: Assessing elementary and secondary school teachers (pp. 229-240). Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications. Kennedy, M. M. (2010). Attribution error and the quest for teacher quality. Educational Researcher, 39(8), 591-598. doi:10.3102/0013189X10390804 Newton, X., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, E., & Thomas, E. (2010). Value-added modeling of teacher effectiveness: An exploration of stability across models and contexts. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 18(23), 1-27. Papay, J. P. (2010). Different tests, different answers: The stability of teacher value-added estimates across outcome measures. American Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 163-193. doi:10.3102/0002831210362589 Paufler, N. A. & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2014). The random assignment of students into elementary classrooms: Implications for value-added analyses and interpretations. American Educational Research Journal, 51(2), 328-362doi: 10.3102/0002831213508299 Polikoff, M. S., & Porter, A. C. (2014). Instructional alignment as a measure of teaching qualityEducation Evaluation and Policy Analysis. doi:10.3102/0162373714531851 [1] Schochet, P. Z., & Chiang, H. S. (2010). Error rates in measuring teacher and school performance based on test score gains (No. NCEE 2010-4004). Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences, National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from These researchers found a 35% statistical error rate when using one year’s worth of data to evaluate teachers, and this error rate only fell to 25% when using three year’s worth of data. [2] Sass, T. R. (2008). The stability of value-added measures of teacher quality and implication for teacher compensation (Policy Brief). National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research: In the Sass study, 1/3rd of the bottom 20% one year moved to the top 40% the next year, and 1/3rd of the top ranked teachers one year moved to the bottom 40% the next. [3] Berliner, D. C. (2010). Poverty and potential: Out-of-school factors and school success. Boulder, CO & Tempe, AZ: Education and the Public Interest Center & Educational Policy Research Unit. Retrieved from; Berliner, D. C. (2014). Effects of inequality and poverty vs. teachers and schooling on America’s youth. Teachers College Record, 116(1). Retrieved from Depending on the study, teachers account for around 17% of a student’s test score. However, this is entire discussion is based upon the assumption that test scores are the most important aspect of teaching and learning, and I feel strongly that we must challenge that assumption. [4] There are a whole host of other issues I’ve omitted here due to time constraints. For instance, using test scores for teacher evaluation can’t account for knowledge and skill transfer between teachers and subjects. Whose to say that the essay writing done in a social studies classroom is or is not what contributed to a student’s score on an English Language Arts section of a standardized test? Similarly, we don’t know how to tease out if the mathematics learned in a physics course contributed to a student’s standardized math test score. Further, standardized test scores can’t account for “peer effect” – where being in a classroom full of high test scorers tends to bring an individual student’s score up, and being in a classroom full of low test scorers tends to bring an individual student’s score down, regardless of past performance. [5] Baker, E. L., Barton, P. E., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, E., Ladd, H. F., Linn, R. L., … Shepard, L. A. (2010). Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. Economic Policy Institute. [6] American Statistical Association. (2014). ASA statement on using value-added models for educational assessment. American Statistical Association. Retrieved from

Beyond Ferguson: Voices in a youth-led movement for justice

The Seattle PBS affiliate, KCTS Channel 9, produced this new “IN Close” episode which takes a look at aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle.  This special is a two part series, the first of which includes an interview I gave contesting the Mayor’s assertion that “Seattle isn’t Ferguson”–the implication being that we have achieved police accountability and social justice, an absurd assertion in a city with a police force under a federal consent decree for excessive use of force.

The second segment features students from Garfield High School’s Black Student Union, of which I am a co-advisor.  Watch these young people articulate their vision and their commitment to this movement and then you will understand why I believe we are at the beginning of a new civil rights movement.

Beyond Ferguson: Voices

A diversity of political, cultural, religious and educational leaders challenge us to confront the racial realities of our region’s and wax poetic and prophetic on where we go from here.

Youth Movement

What began as a social media hashtag, has now become the rallying cry of a new movement in America. This story takes a look at how “Black Lives Matter” resonates with college and high school students in Seattle.

New Seattle Test Boycott Erupts: Nathan Hale High School votes to refuse to administer a Common Core test

Today, I found out from my good friend Doug Edelstein that his school community decided to collectively refuse to administer the new Common Core test, the SBAC, to 11th graders. Doug teaches at, and graduated from, Nathan Hale (in fact, my step-dad was a classmate of his).  The Nathan Hale Senate–a body made up of the teachers, administrators, parents and students–voted nearly unanimously that this test was inappropriate. The vote was taken after careful consideration and much discussion and inquiry, including two school community forums — one of which included University of Washington professor of education and renowned scholar on high-stakes testing, Wayne Au.  This is the first year that the SBAC is required in the Seattle Public Schools, and this action represents an escalation of the high-stakes testing resistance that erupted against the MAP test in 2013.  In taking this action, Nathan Hale has became the latest focal point of what has now become the largest ongoing revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history and an important new escalation in the national resistance to common core testing.
Doug wrote the following announcement of Nathan Hale’s courageous decision to take a stand against the testocracy:
This afternoon the Nathan Hale Senate (functions as Building Leadership Team) voted nearly unanimously not to administer the SBAC tests to 11th graders this year.
The Senate also recently voted not to administer the PSAT test to 10th graders at all in the future.
Reasons for refusing the SBAC for 11th graders included (summary):
1. Not required for graduation
2. Colleges will not use them this year
3. Since NCLB requires all students pass the tests by 2014, and since few if any schools will be able to do that,  all schools will therefore be considered failing by that standard. There is thus no reason to participate in erroneous and misapplied self-labeling.
4. It is neither valid nor reliable nor equitable assessment. We will use classroom based assessments to guide next instructional steps.
5. Cut scores of the SBAC reflect poor assessment strategy and will produce invalid and unreliable outcomes.
6. Student made this point: “Why waste time taking a test that is meaningless and that most of us will fail?”
7. The SBAC will tie up computer lab time for weeks.
8. The SBAC will take up time students need to work on classroom curriculum.
This is an important step. Nathan Hale is asserting its commitment to valid, reliable, equitable assessment. This decision is the result of community and parent meetings, careful study of research literature, knowledge of our students’ needs, commitment to excellence in their education, and adherence to the values and ideas of best-practice instruction.
This resolution does not mean NHHS will refuse the 10th grade SBAC assessments, sorry to say. But the way the school went about the decision is a powerful model for other schools, and means that anything is still possible in that regard.
Doug Edelstein

10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test for Your Child: Maryland parent on opting out of high-stakes testing ran an article by Joseph Williams this week titled, “Boycotters Might Be Winning the Battle Over Standardized Testing.” In that article he writes:

“In districts across the nation, from Florida to Alaska, the grassroots push for a rollback in high-stakes testing has gained momentum, and a broad coalition of parents, teachers, and advocates are poised to take advantage, even if it means an end to federal grants in tight fiscal times.”

He can now add Maryland to his list.

My good friend Michele Bollinger just sent me a copy of a statement to publish (see below) of her intention to respect her daughter’s wishes not to take the new Common Core high-stakes test—and why other parents should join this opt-out movement. Michele is a teacher in Washington, D.C. and was my mentor to becoming a social justice educator when I first began my teaching career in that city. Michele is also the editor of the young adult textbook, 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History.

Here now is Michele’s statement and ten reasons parents should join this growing opt-out movement:

As a parent and educator, I cannot stay silent as PARCC testing begins around the country. After much discussion within our family, our 5th grader has decided to decline the PARCC exam. We agree with her and have expressed our refusal to consent to testing to her school. Here are some of the reasons why.

It is easy to feel alone in this, but people are standing up to high stakes testing all around the country right now. If any Maryland residents, especially those in Montgomery County, Maryland are interested in declining the PARCC exam, please contact me at

10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test

for Your Child in Maryland

1.   High-stakes standardized testing takes an emotional toll on students.

  • The PARCC is unlike any test you took as a child. It is unprecedented in its level of standardization and in the punitive measures attached to testing performance
  • The PARCC is a timed exam and unfamiliar to students in form and content
  • The stress of high-stakes test taking produces anxiety and is even more challenging for students who already experience anxiety
  • The testing environment can be oppressive, as students movements and behavior are heavily monitored

2.  The PARCC test drives the standardization of learning.

  • The Common Core State Standards, which support the PARCC, have narrowed state curriculum to fit the demands of the test
  • Untested subjects are deprioritized or dropped altogether
  • This unprecedented level of standardization cannot accommodate student differences in need, ability and interests

3. Test prep means less quality instructional time in schools.

  • PARCC is longer than previously administered tests
  • PARCC means more testing beginning at younger ages
  • Schools now commonly refer to a “testing season” that lasts from March until June

4. The PARCC test is a fundamentally flawed assessment.

  • There is no evidence that PARCC prepares students for college or careers
  • PARCC is developmentally inappropriate for students at all grade levels
  • Not enough sample tests, practice tests, or exemplars have been released
  • The expectation that many or most students will perform poorly on the test is public knowledge
  • Because Maryland students are already tested and assessed throughout the school year, the PARCC is unnecessary

5. Schools around the state of Maryland are unprepared to take a high stakes exam.

  • Never before have so many students taken an online exam simultaneously
  • Districts have continually reported schools’ IT infrastructure cannot support PARCC administration
  • The rush to implement the PARCC does not make sense for our schools

6. PARCC is a cash cow for testing companies such as Pearson, Inc.

  • Technology and testing companies – not educators – have funded and organized the rush to develop and implement the Common Core and PARCC
  • States have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Common Core and PARCC
  • In Maryland, combined costs for Math & English/Language Arts tests are as high as $61.24 per student
  • Pearson is a private company which will have access to student data with very little oversight. Pearson may sell personal data related to individual children who have taken the PARCC

7. School districts have been bullied into accepting PARCC and the Common Core – and residents have been failed by their elected leaders who signed on to it.

  • When Chicago Public Schools announced they could not and would not administer PARCC this year, they were threatened with losing up to $1 billion in funding
  • Schools and school districts across the country have been forced to comply with federal and state mandates around PARCC or risk lose millions of dollars in funding
  • Maryland policy makers have endorsed Common Core and PARCC without diligently investigating what is at stake and without asking the right questions
  • We will call their bluff – we will not allow our children’s schools to be held hostage to bad educational policy

8. PARCC test scores will be used to justify punitive measures.

  • Per “No Child Left Behind” and other school reform measures, test scores are used to fire teachers, hold students back and close down schools
  • These actions are disruptive and are unsettling to the communities that have to endure them
  • These measures disproportionately impact under-resourced communities and students of color

9. There is no legal way for school administrators to force your child to take a test she or he does not want to take.

  • The official position of the state Department of Education is that there is no “opt out” provision for testing in Maryland
  • There is no legal precedent for forcing a student to take a standardized test
  • Maryland students and parents can opt-out, refuse, or decline to take the test just as families can in other states
  • National “messaging” around the Common Core and PARCC has been carefully crafted to conceal problems and to appeal to parents and teachers
  • Schools present a favorable view of the PARCC and their ability to carry out testing because of a lack of political leadership from the state
  • All parents should be informed of the detriments of standardized testing
  • Your child cannot be punished, failed, or held back for refusing this test

10. Now is the time!

  • More people are questioning PARCC than ever before – teachers, students and parents around the country have begun to speak out against high stakes testing
  • Boycotts and other actions against high stakes testing have galvanized communities to fight for justice in education
  • Given the large number of problems with the test, many schools will not be held accountable based on test results this year. This is a lower-stakes opportunity to boycott the test and to build momentum for bigger boycotts to stop the damaging “accountability” provisions in the years to come
  • If your child is “fine” taking tests and you can supplement your child’s test-driven curriculum with enriching experiences outside of school, the same cannot be said for everyone
  • Even if your school tends to meet AYP or other defined goals, the same cannot be said for all schools – especially those in under-resourced areas and disproportionately those populated by students of color

We need to stand up for all children who are experiencing an unprecedented transformation of the learning experience via the expansion of high stakes testing.

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