Author Archive: I AM AN EDUCATOR

Seattle Educators On Strike!: Photos & stories of the struggle

Today was an incredible step forward in the struggle to fully fund education in Washington state: our union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), went on a one day strike, joining over 50 local educators’ unions in a rolling strike wave to demand that the State Legislature spend billions of more dollars on the schools.

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Jesse Hagopian rallies the crowd at Garfield High School at the beginning of the strike. Photo credit: Truman Buffett

I have been part of a rank-and-file organization in Seattle called the Social Equality Educators (SEE) who have argued for years that if we want to achieve the schools our students deserve, we will have to take collective action to force those in power to back down.  We have helped organize collective action in the victorious MAP test boycott, the successful Garfield High School walkout against the proposed displacement of one of our teachers, and to support the mass boycotts of the SBAC testing this year.  However, we have said that if the union as a whole were to take up these struggles, the power of our thousands of  educators across the city would be strong enough to reverse the attack by the corporate education reformers.

IMG_1933-2Today, the SEA learned from these previous experiences of collective action by the rank-and-file, as well as other smaller locals around the state that began this one day rolling strike wave. The day began with educators, students, and parents rallying at designated high schools. Educators at these spirited morning rallies took up chants beyond the funding issues to also address abuses of high-stakes testing and Black Student Lives Matter.  Then everyone boarded buses and headed for the Space Needle where we gathered to begin our march.   As nurses, counselors, librarians, instructional assistants, family support workers, office staff, teachers, other educators, students, and parents stepped out into the street to begin the rally, I began to realize how many thousands of people were ready to take direct action to defend our schools–likely some 5,000 people joined the rally.

Why were so many educators, students and parents motivated to join the rally?

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Seattle educators on strike, marching down town. Photo credit: Mr. Conroy

Washington State ranks 40th in the nation in per-pupil funding, a fact that has caused increasing hardships to Seattle Public Schools students. The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the State Legislature is in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court’s McCleary decisionthe school funding order designed to uphold the Washington State Constitution, which reads in part,

 Preamble, Article IX, Washington Constitution: It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

Failure to fully fund education has had disastrous results for the students in the Seattle Public Schools.  The elementary schools in Seattle have lost funding for their counselors, leaving hundreds of our most vulnerable young students without the social and emotional supports they so desperately need.  Transportation services have been dramatically cut, leaving families scrambling every morning to find a way to get their children to school.  Elective courses, art, music, drama, and other enrichment programs have been eliminated. Educators have seen their pay lag the increasing cost of living in Seattle. Class sizes have ballooned and students are being denied the individual attention they deserve.  Moreover, all of these problems have disproportionately impacted lower income students and students of color—contributing to an opportunity gap between socio-economic classes and between students of color and their white peers.

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One of the main issues motivating teachers at the one day strike was opposition to high-stakes testing.

In the current legislative session, the Washington State Legislature has not done enough to address these severe funding problems.

Both the Senate and the House propose to ignore the recently ratified I-1351, the class size reduction initiative, flouting the democratic will of the voters. For the last six years, the state Legislature has suspended voter-approved cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for school employees.  Now, the current proposal is to raise educator pay by only 1.8%–while the Legislature has proposed raising their own pay by 11%.  In a region as wealthy as ours, it simply isn’t fair that average teacher pay in Washington State ranks 42nd in the nation.

Some members of the state Legislature have said that they will only support additional funding to the schools if teachers agree to use standardized test scores in their evaluations.  This stipulation that funding be tied to increased use of standardized testing is not part of the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on fully funding schools.  Moreover, the use of value added modeling (VAM) to use standardized tests scores to judge teacher performance has been thoroughly debunked by leading educators and statisticians.  The American Statistical Association, the oldest and largest statistical association in the world, recently slammed the high-stakes value-added method of evaluating teachers, saying, “VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes…VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

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Thousands rally in the streets of down town Seattle to demand full funding of the Washington State schools.

It is true we need accountability in education, but this should start with politicians being accountable for fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap.

Today’s strike by Seattle’s educators, and the mass outpouring of supporters, is just the beginning in the struggle for the schools our children deserve.

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Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School and is the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

Seattle Educators Set To Strike For The Schools Our Children Deserve: Video interview with Jesse Hagopian on the rolling strike wave in Washington State

Educators are walking out of the public schools in Seattle on Tuesday, ft-teachers-washingtonMay 18th, joining a one day rolling strike wave of educators unions around the state, with a powerful message for the State Legislature: Fully fund education. These educators will be joined by many parents and students who are asking that the Washington State Legislature do what is not only right, but what is lawful.  The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the that State Legislature is in violation of state law and has mandated that they add billions of extra dollars to fund eduction.

Moreover, Washington State voters have approved I-1351 which would reduce class size around the state, yet the legislature is preparing to ignore that law.  To make matters worse, the Washington State Legislature is getting ready to take an 11% raise, even while educators have had their voter approved cost of living adjustment revoked for the past six years, and now only offer educators a 1.8% increase.

The Real News Network covers the rolling strike wave across Washington State in this special segment:

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DHARNA NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore.Thousands of public school teachers went on strikes across nine Washington State school districts on Wednesday. These single-day strikes are part of a protest against the new state budget proposal. The teachers, who are members of a union called the Washington Education Association, are demanding smaller class sizes, better compensation, and less testing. Teachers of other districts are set to strike this Friday.Joining us from Seattle to discuss these strikes is Jesse Hagopian. Jesse teaches history and is also the black student union advisor at Garfield High School, where teachers just voted to join the strike. Jesse is an associate editor of the acclaimed magazine Rethinking Schools. He’s also a founding member of Social Equality Educators. He blogs at I’mAnEducator.com and is the editor of More than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

[See the rest of the transcript here]

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education: A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”

Twelve national civil rights organizations released a statement today in opposition to parents and students who opt out of high-stakes standardized testing–what has now become a truly mass direct action campaign against the multi-billion dollar testing industry.  I believe that their statement titled, “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts,” misses the key role that standardized testing has played throughout American history in reproducing institutional racism and inequality.  I wrote the below statement, with the aid of the board of the Network for Public Education, to outline the racist history of standardized testing and to highlight leadership from people of color in the movement against high-stakes testing. I sincerely hope for a response from the civil rights organizations who authored the statement and I hope that this dialogue leads to deeper discussion about how to make Black Lives Matter in our school system and how to remake American public education on foundation of social justice.

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”

Authored by Jesse Hagopian and the NPE Board of Directors NPE

Today several important civil rights organizations released a statement that is critical of the decision by many parents and students to opt out of high stakes standardized tests. Though we understand the concerns expressed in this statement, we believe high stakes tests are doing more harm than good to the interests of students of color, and for that reason, we respectfully disagree.

The United States is currently experiencing the largest uprising against high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s history. Never before have more parents, students, and educators participated in acts of defiance against these tests than they are today.  In New York State some 200,000 families have decided to opt their children out of the state test.  The largest walkout against standardized tests in U.S. history occurred in Colorado earlier this school year when thousands refused to take the end of course exams.  In cities from Seattle, to Chicago, to Toledo, to New York City, teachers have organized boycotts of the exam and have refused to administer particularly flawed and punitive exams.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to dismiss this uprising by saying that opposition to the Common Core tests has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Secretary Duncan’s comment is offensive for many reasons. To begin, suburban white moms have a right not to have their child over tested and the curriculum narrowed to what’s on the test without being ridiculed. But the truth is his comment serves to hide the fact that increasing numbers of people from communities of color are leading this movement around the nation, including:

You would expect the multi-billion dollar testing industry not to celebrate this resistance. Conglomerates such as Pearson, the over 9 billion dollar per year corporation that produces the PARCC test, could stand to lose market share and profits if the protests continue to intensify. But it is unfortunate that more civil rights groups have not come to the aid of communities resisting the test-and-punish model of education. In a recent statement issued by the national leadership of some of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations, they wrote:

Data obtained through some standardized tests are particularly important to the civil rights community because they are the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes even while vigilance is always required to ensure tests are not misused.

We agree that it is vital to understand the disparities that exist in education and to detail the opportunity gap that exists between students of color and white students, between lower income students and students from more affluent families. There is a long and troubling history of schools serving children of color not receiving equitable access to resources and not providing these students with culturally competent empowering curriculum. Moreover, the schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1960s—a fact that must be particular troubling to the NAACP that fought and won the Brown vs Board of Education desegregation decision. For these reasons, we understand why national civil rights organizations are committed to exposing the neglect of students of color.

Yet we know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.  This fact has been amply demonstrated through the experience of the past thirteen years of NCLB’s mandate of national testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. The outcomes of the NCLB policy shows that test score achievement gaps between African American and white students have only increased, not decreased. If the point of the testing is to highlight inequality and fix it, so far it has only increased inequality. Further, the focus on test score data has allowed policy makers to rationalize the demonization of schools and educators, while simultaneously avoiding the more critically necessary structural changes that need to be made in our education system and the broader society.

We also know that standardized testing is not the only, or the most important, method to know that students of color are being underserved; student graduation rates, college attendance rates, studies showing that wealthier and predominantly white schools receiving a disproportionate amount of funding are all important measures of the opportunity gap that don’t require the use of high-stakes standardized tests.

The civil rights organizations go on to write in their recent statement on assessment,

That’s why we’re troubled by the rhetoric that some opponents of testing have appropriated from our movement. The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation. They’ve raised the specter of White supremacists who employed biased tests to ‘prove’ that people of color were inferior to Whites.

There are some legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed. But instead of stimulating worthy discussions about over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and the misuse of test data, these activists would rather claim a false mantle of civil rights activism.

To begin, we agree with these civil rights organizations when they write that over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and misuse of test data are “legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed”—and in fact we hope to hear more from these civil rights organizations about these very real and destructive aspects of high-stakes standardized testing.  Moreover, we believe that when these civil rights organizations fully confront just how pervasive over-testing, cultural bias and misuse of data is in the public education system, these facts alone will be enough to convince them join the mass civil rights opt out uprising that is happening around the nation. Let us take each one of these points in turn.

  • Over testing

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT, the second largest teacher’s union in the nation) conducted a 2013 study based on a analysis of two mid-size urban school districts that found the time students spent taking tests claimed up to 50 hours per year. In addition, the study found that students spent from between 60 to more than 110 hours per year directly engaged in test preparation activities. The immense amount of time devoted to testing has resulted in students in a constant state of preparation for the next high-stakes exam rather than learning the many skills that aren’t measured by standardized tests such as critical thinking, collaboration, civic courage, creativity, empathy, and leadership. The new Common Core tests are only in math and language arts and thus have served to skew the curriculum away from the arts, physical education, civics, social studies, science, music, and a myriad of other subjects that students of color are too often denied access to.

  • Cultural bias

Standardized tests have repeatedly been found to contain cultural biases. The process by which test questions are “normed” tends to eliminate questions that non-white students answer correctly in higher numbers. In New York, the number of Black students rated “below standard” jumped from 15.5% to 50% with the introduction of new Common Core tests. English learners did even worse – 84% tested “below standard” on the new tests. This sort of failure has devastating effects on students, and does not reflect their true abilities.

  • Violations of student privacy

Common Core tests are associated with the collection of unprecedented levels of data from individual students, with few safeguards for student privacy. These systems allow for-profit testing companies, and third party companies, access to information that could be used against the interests of students in the future.

However, if those problems weren’t enough there are a myriad of other ways that these high-stakes standardized tests are being used to perpetuate institutional racism.  Perhaps the most curious omission from their letter is the fact that they assert that, “The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation,” yet they offer no rebuttal of the assertion that the standardized tests today share many of the characteristics of the discriminatory exams of the past.  As a recent editorial by the social justice periodical Rethinking Schools asserted:

The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. 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.

This is why some of the most prominent early voices of opposition to standardized testing in schools came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. Du Bois, one of the most important Black intellectuals in the history of the United States and a founding member of the NAACP, recalled in 1940, “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.”

The great educator and historian Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote this statement that so clearly reveals one of the primary flaws of standardized testing that persist to this day:

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 today know as 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. Their scores do not reflect the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students when compared to those of lower-income students and students of color, but do reflect the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read with them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, high-quality health care, and access to good food, to name a few. This is why attaching high-stakes to these exams only serves to exacerbate racial and class inequality.

Image result for school to prison pipeline rallyThis point was recently driven home by Boston University economics professors Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed.” In this peer-reviewed study they reveal that the increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams are linked to higher incarceration rates. This landmark study should be a clarion call to everyone interested in ending mass incarceration to end the practice of high-stakes exit exams in high school and work towards authentic assessments.

A July, 2010 statement authored by many of the same civil rights organizations that penned the aforementioned letter titled, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” stated:

The practice of tracking students by perceived ability is a major civil rights obstacle…Ideally, we must provide opportunities for all students to prepare for college and careers without creating systems that lead to racially and regionally identifiable tracks, which offer unequal access to high-quality.

We agree with this statement and thank these civil rights organizations for raising concerns about the terrible effects of tracking on the public schools and the detriment that tracking has been to Black students, other students of color, and low-income students.  We only want to emphasize that the standardized exams they are now defending are one of the most significant contributing factors to the tracking and racial segregation of students into separate and unequal programs and schools.

In that same “Framework” document the civil rights groups write:

Because public schools are critical community institutions especially in urban and rural areas, they should be closed only as a measure of last resort. And where a school district deems school closure necessary solely for budgetary or population reasons, the burdens cannot be allowed to fall disproportionately on our most vulnerable communities.

Again, we agree, but we want to point out that it is the use of test scores in labeling schools as “failing” that have contributed to clear cutting of schools that serve students of color in cities around the nation—most notably the closing of 50 schools in Chicago last year all in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Left, front: Seattle/King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson. Right, front: Seattle/King County NAACP education Chair, Rita Green.

We call on the civil rights community to support the work of educators around the nation who are working to develop authentic forms of assessment that can be used to help support students to develop critical thinking. Innovative programs like New York City Consortium Schools have a wavier from state standardized tests and instead use performance based assessments that have produced dramatically better outcomes for all students, even though they have more special needs students than the general population—and have demonstrated higher graduation rates, better college attendance rates, and smaller racial divides in achievement than the rest of New York’s public schools.

Finally, we ask that you consider the rousing call to action against the new Common Core tests that was recently issued by the Seattle/King County NAACP chapter in the following statement:

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

We join the Seattle NAACP in calling for true accountability for educational opportunities. For too long, our nation has labored under the illusion that “shining a light” on inequities is an adequate remedy. Inequitable opportunities are manifestly evident to anyone who cares to look. The use of tests for this purpose has become part of the problem, rather than a solution. We reiterate our support for parents and students who make the difficult choice to opt out of high stakes tests, and call on our nation’s leaders to shift policies away from these tests.

New Video Book Trailer–“More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing”

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VIDEO–More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing

More Than a Score editor Jesse Hagopian reads from the book at a recent tour stop in Washington, D.C.

Exceptional” –Publishers Weekly

Exciting” –Truthout

Arguments to win over even the most skeptical school reformer.” –Kirkus

As the opt out movement explodes nationwide, the tour for the new book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing has been generating inspiration, excitement, strategy, and tactics in the struggle against unfair testing across the county.  Now there is a new video trailer, featuring several of the contributors, to help share the lessons of this book inspire resistance to the reduction of teaching and learning to a data point–please share it far and wide.

For too long the “testocracy,” mostly billionaires, politicians, and others with little or no background in teaching, have gotten away with using standardized testing to punish our nation’s youth and educators. Now students are walking out, parents are opting their children out, and teachers are refusing to administer these detrimental exams. In fact, the “reformers” today find themselves facing the largest revolt in US history against high-stakes, standardized testing.

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More Than a Score book tour in Baltimore. From left to right: Ben Dalbey, parent of Baltimore City Public School students, preschool teacher, activist; Jesse Haogpian, editor of More Than a Score; Matthew Prestbury, a parent of Baltimore City Public Schools students; Jerry McNutt, a member of the Baltimore Algebra Project. Jessica Shiller, a parent of two public school children in Baltimore and a professor of education at Towson University. (Photo Credit: Junior Bijou)

More Than a Score is a collection of essays, poems, speeches, and interviews—accounts of personal courage and trenchant insights—from frontline fighters who are defying the corporate education reformers, often at great personal and professional risk, and fueling a national movement to reclaim and transform public education.

More Than a Score features the voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and grassroots education activists, including: Wayne Au, Carol Burris, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Sarah Chambers, Mallory Clarke, Jeanette Deutermann, Alma Flor Ada, Rosie Frascella, Alexia Garcia, Emily Giles, Helen Gym, Nikhil Goyal, Jesse Hagopian, Brian Jones, Alfie Kohn, Amber Kudla, John Kuhn, Jia Lee, Karen Lewis, Malcolm London, Barbara Madeloni, Cauldierre McKay, Mark Naison, Monty Neill, Diane Ravitch, Aaron Regunberg, Mary Cathryn D. Ricker, Stephanie Rivera, Kirstin Roberts, Peggy Robertson, Falmata Seid, Tim Shea, Phyllis Tashlik, Dao X. Tran

Black Student Lives Are More Than a Score! (Video)

Last weekend I spoke to packed audiences on my book tour for More Than A Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing in Milwaukee, WI for the Educator’s Network for Social Justice conference, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference in Chicago, and to the Chicago Teachers’ Union.
My presentations during the weekend focused on making clear the connection between the growing opt-out of standardized testing movement for justice in public education and the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the weekend, I talked about the growing numbers of Black leaders in the opt out movement (such as Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis and students in the Baltimore Algebra Project and the Newark Student Union), outlined the history of standardized tests having been created by eugenicists, and discussed the Black scholars such as W.E.B Du Bois who were some of the first opponents of standardized testing. 
I was particularly excited to present at the NPE Conference along side Rita Green, the Education Chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP.  We gave a jam-packed room entitled, “More Than a Score: Black Lives Matter!”  This meeting was kicked off by Rita Green who announced that she would work to connect NAACP chapters nationwide to education justice organizing and the opt out of high-stakes testing movement (a copy of the statement by the Seattle/King County NAACP is available here). I then spoke about the rising influence and overlap of the Black Lives Matter movement and the opt out movement. As education blogger Chris Thinnes wrote, “Jesse Hagopian asked in what I found the single most compelling question I’ve heard, and internalized, in recent weeks: “Could you imagine the power we’d have if these two movements found common cause…?”
Watch the edited video of our presentation, More Than A Score: Black Students Lives Matter here:

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 4.30.18 PMAnd see the video of the powerful discussion that followed the presentation:

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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).

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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.

Sincerely,

Heather Robison

SBA practice exams: http://wa.portal.airast.org/training-tests/

New York Standards Performance Consortium http://performanceassessment.org/performance/index.html

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.

Sincerely,

Staff members at Garfield High School

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