“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. 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. 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. Given problems such as these, leading educational researchers and the American Statistical Association 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), 328-362. doi: 10.3102/0002831213508299 Polikoff, M. S., & Porter, A. C. (2014). Instructional alignment as a measure of teaching quality. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis. doi:10.3102/0162373714531851  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 http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104004/pdf/20104004.pdf: 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.  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.  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 http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential; Berliner, D. C. (2014). Effects of inequality and poverty vs. teachers and schooling on America’s youth. Teachers College Record, 116(1). Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org.: 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.  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.  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.  American Statistical Association. (2014). ASA statement on using value-added models for educational assessment. American Statistical Association. Retrieved from https://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf
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.
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.
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
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 graduation2. Colleges will not use them this year3. 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.Yay.Doug Edelstein
10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test for Your Child: Maryland parent on opting out of high-stakes testing
TakePart.com 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 email@example.com.
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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Some of my early memories are of riding on my parents’ shoulders at the annual Martin Luther King Day march. Seattle’s annual rally on King’s birthday is often one of the largest marches of the year in our city, bringing thousands of people into the streets around the most pressing social-justice issues of the day. Organized by dozens of grassroots community and labor organizations, the event traditionally begins with a rally in the gym at legendary Garfield High School, my alma mater and where I now teach history.
That’s why when I was invited to speak at the thirty-third annual Martin Luther King Day celebration I was deeply honored. At the beginning of the ceremony, I was asked to award recognition plaques to students who had taken action in pursuit of justice for Michael Brown. After the indoor ceremony, some 10,000 people began marching towards downtown. My wife and two boys marched a few miles with me before they peeled off to return to my mom’s house, where our 2-year-old son’s birthday party was scheduled later in the day. The march streamed through downtown Seattle and ended at the federal courthouse, where I delivered the final speech of the program.
I took the opportunity to defend Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy from the false praise of those who tolerate injustice. I reminded people of the King who demanded fundamental change. The King who invited people not only to dream on that twenty-eighth day in August of 1963, but also cautioned, “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” I told the crowd we would not let anyone imprison the true message of Dr. King—a man who, were he alive today, would have delivered that message from the streets of Ferguson, and with Black Lives Matter protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and so many others. I ended by crediting the new young activists who, fed up with the school-to-prison-pipeline, are creating a school-to-freedom pipeline.
As I stepped away from the microphone, the roar of the crowd affirmed the day I had so eagerly anticipated. There was only one thing left to make the day complete: my son’s second birthday party. He was born on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and we decided to hold the big family celebration on MLK Day at the conclusion of the march.
What happened next turned what should have been one of the most joyous days of my life into one of the most painful. While I was on the sidewalk a few blocks away from where I had delivered my speech, a Seattle police officer pepper-sprayed me in the face.
I was on the phone with my mom to arrange my pick-up when a searing pain shot through my ears, nostril and eyes, and spread across my face.
My mom soon arrived and took me back to the house. I tried to be calm when I entered so as not to scare my children, but the sight of me with a rag over my swollen eyes upset the party. I spent much of the occasion at the bathtub, with my sister pouring milk on my eyes, ears, nose and face to quell the burning. My heart began to pound, and I could feel a rising panic when my older son asked me what happened and why I was pouring milk on myself. I didn’t want him to have to learn, at the age of 6, to be afraid of the police on our own city’s streets. I still don’t know how to talk to my kids about what happened.
What do I have to do, so that when my sons have grown up and recall the sixty-third annual MLK Day celebration, it is about remembering past trials of injustice rather than endlessly reliving them?
I will forever be grateful that my wife came back to the hotel early from her work that day and when the earthquake struck, we were all together. While we were lucky—part of lobby of the hotel collapsed but not our room—many tens, or hundreds, of thousands of Haitians perished from the disaster, which was compounded by the U.S. and U.N.’s neglectful and exploitative response to the quake. We did our best in the aftermath of the quake to assist in providing first aid, but sadly we saw many die who could have been saved if there had been a serious international aid effort. On this fifth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, I am thankful to be alive, thankful to have a wonderful family, and thankful for the never-ending resistance of the Haitian people. It is the uprising of Black people from Ferguson to Port-Au-Prince that is helping me deal with the anxiety that is always triggered in me by the anniversary of the earthquake.
When we say Black Lives Matter let’s make our anti-racist vision extend beyond our borders to the people of Haiti.
Below is a link to the article I wrote for Truthout.org where I assess the state of Haiti on the 5th anniversary of the earthquake, describe my experience surviving the calamity, exposes the U.S. shock doctrine reconstruction plan, and urge solidarity between the Black Lives Matter movement and the new uprising in Haiti.
Top Ten Acts of Test Resistance in 2014–The greatest year of revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history
For too long so-called education reformers, 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. They have used these tests to deny students promotion or graduation, close schools, and fire teachers—all while deflecting attention away from the need to fund the services the would dramatically improve our schools. The year 2014 marked the greatest year of revolt against high-stakes testing in U.S. history. Across the country, students are walking out, parents are opting their children out, and teachers are refusing to administer these detrimental exams—often taking great personal and professional risk to defy the corporate education reformers. The impact of this movement can be seen in the poll released in August 2014 by Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup, which found that 54 percent of the general public said standardized tests are not helpful–the rate for public school parents was even higher, at 68 percent. To gain a full appreciation of the size and scope of this mass rebellion, check out the “Testing Reform Victories Report” from Fair Test. To gain insight into to the motivations and strategies of the leaders in this movement, order the newly released book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing. Here then are my picks for the top ten most powerful acts of resistance to high-stakes, standardize testing in 2014, listed in chronological order. I hope to add your action to my list next year! Top Ten Test-defiers 2014
In what was perhaps the largest student walkout against high-stakes testing in U.S. history, hundreds of high schools students in Colorado staged a mass walk out in November refusing to take their 12th grade social studies and science tests. Overall, more than 5,000 Colorado 12th graders refused to take the tests.
Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones teach first grade at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma and sent a beautiful letter home in November with their students explaining to the parents why they would be refusing to administer any of the standardized tests. This brave act met with immediate scorn from the school district and these teachers will need all of our support as they struggle for their students and their own jobs.
Amidst the cheers of anti-testing activists, Florida’s Lee County school board became the first district in the state to vote to opt out of all state-mandated testing—despite the fact that the state could implement sanctions for refusing to administer the tests. Ultimately those high-stakes frightened the school board into resuming the testing, however, the dramatic action changed the political landscape in Florida and prompted the State Education Commissioner to call for an “investigation” of standardized testing in Florida’s public schools to increase transparency for parents about the use of assessments and standardized tests.
Most school districts across Washington state were forced by Secretary Arne Duncan’s selective enforcement of the No Child Left Behind Act to send letters to nearly all the parents in the state informing them that their child attended a failing school. On August 2014, 28 school superintendents from around the state authored a letter of their own, where they declared that their schools’ successes are not reflected in these ratings and criticized No Child Left Behind.
In July, the thousands of educator delegates to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly voted to demand the resignation of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and launched “Toxic Testing” campaign that is raising awareness around the nation about the harmful effects of high-stakes testing.
The Providence Student Union has been one of the most organized and creative student groups in the nation in opposition to high-stakes testing. These students’ unrelenting efforts to expose the high-stakes testing sham—from staging a zombie march to show what the test do to your brain, to making the adults take the test and announcing their scores at a press conference—put enough pressure on the state legislature get them to vote in June for 3-year moratorium on use of high-stakes.
During the June testing season, New York State became the epicenter against high stakes testing as 60,000 parents refused to let their children be reduced to test scores and chose to opt out. One of the most prominent stories of opting out came from Castle Bridge Elementary in New York City where the test had to be canceled because over some 90% of children were opted out!
On May Day, international workers day, teachers at International High School, which serves English Language Learners, announced that they would refuse to administer a test that was culturally and linguistically inappropriate for their students. They defeated the test and were not reprimanded.
In April, three teachers at New York City’s Earth School became the first teachers in the nation to publicly refuse to administer a Common Core standardized test. They penned a beautiful letter describing their decision and their vision for education.
In February, teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). The teachers were threatened with the revoking of their teaching certificates. However, because of the overwhelming solidarity of the parents, students, and community, they defeated the ISAT and were not reprimanded!
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. He edited the book, “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing,” which includes a foreword by Diane Ravitch, an introduction by Alfie Kohn, and an afterward by Wayne Au (Haymarket, December). You can sign up to follow Jesse’s blog at: http://www.IAmAnEducator.com or follow him on twitter: @jessedhagopian
Two weeks ago Dan Beekman of the Seattle Times, a Garfield High School graduate himself, returned to the Bulldog house in search of a story about the Black Lives Matter movement that went beyond forecasting traffic delays that could result from protests or tallying the numbers arrested at demonstrations.
Some ten members of the Black Student Union at Garfield, which I co-advise with Kristina Clark, gave an over 1 hour interview that left me emotionally drained but more determined than ever to act against police brutality. Mr. Beekman and I admitted to each other afterword that we had trouble fighting back tears as the students explained the fear they experience everyday caused by those tasked with “public safety.”
As Garfield BSU Vice President Issa George said during the interview, “We are still fighting oppression and we are still fighting for our lives.” And the students went on to recount the many actions they have taken to build this new movement.
These youth are determined to be part of a force that transforms our country into place that wouldn’t causally dispose of the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many other young African Americans. Their vision of remaking the nations’ institutions extends from the schoolhouse to the courthouse to the jailhouse and beyond. On December 10, The City of Seattle’s Human Rights Commission recognized the Garfield BSU’s powerful voice for justice, awarding them the “Rising Human Rights Leadership” prize at a gala event at Seattle’s Town Hall.
This new civil rights movement that has erupted across the country has shined a light on the horrors of police violence in Black communities. But it has done something else. It has also exposed the corporate education reformers–who often frame their policies of increasing the use of high-stakes tests and privatizing education as vital to closing the “achievement gap”—as being irrelevant to the issues that Black people care the most about. Did anyone see Bill Gates, Eli Broad, or the Walton Family at the last Black Lives Matter protest? The fact is, the richest one percent in this nation, who are using their wealth to make education about rote memorization in preparation for the next high-stakes exam, rather than critical thinking or problem solving, have been silent about the issues that are most important to Black youth.
I don’t want to hear another billionaire say one more word about policies aimed at Black youth or the “achievement gap,” until they have met with the Black Student Union and asked them what they believe is most important.
As Garfield High School Black Student Union Treasurer Elijah Haynes said during the interview, “I have power in my voice and I’m using it.” Are the education reformers listening?
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and co-advises the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. He edited the book, “More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing,” which includes a foreword by Diane Ravitch, an introduction by Alfie Kohn, and an afterward by Wayne Au (Haymarket, December).
While in Boston speaking about my recently released edited book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the great EduShyster, who asked me important questions about the connection between the recent rise in student protests against police brutality and high-stakes, standardized testing. Here’s what I told her:
Jesse Hagopian says protests against police and high-stakes testing have more in common than you think… EduShyster: You happened to be in Boston recently giving a talk about the new uprising against high-stakes testing on the same night that thousands of people here were protesting police violence and institutional racism. Here’s the people’s mic—explain how the two causes are related. Jesse Hagopian: If I could have, I would have moved the talk to the protest to connect the issues. I would have said that the purpose of education is to empower young people to help solve problems in their community and their society. The purpose of standardized testing is to learn how to eliminate wrong answer choices rather than how to critically think or organize with people around you or collaborate on issues you care about. These tests are disempowering kids from the skills they really need to solve the big problems that our society and kids themselves are facing—like rampant police brutality and police terror. What’s the point of making our kids college and career ready if they can be shot down in the street and there’s no justice? You look at how testing and the preparation for testing now monopolizes class time—that is the American school system. If our schools emphasized rote memorization and dumbing down, that would be unfortunate. But the problem goes so far beyond that. We face huge problems as a society: mass incarceration, endless wars, income inequality. Our education system has to be about empowering students to solve those problems. EduShyster: I can think of one key difference between the two movements. All of the people who are protesting testing are white suburban moms who are unhappy that their kids aren’t as brilliant as they thought. Hagopian: That comment is offensive for lots of reasons but one of the biggest is that it dismisses the parents and teachers of color who are leaders of this movement. Look at Castle Bridge Elementary in New York where more than 80% of the parents opted their kids out of the test. The PTA leaders who helped spearhead that movement are both parents of color. Look at Karen Lewis in Chicago, who has led a civil rights struggle for the schools Chicago’s students deserve, which includes a fight against high-stakes testing. In Seattle we organized a multi-racial coalition, and some of the most vocal opponents of the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test were Black teachers, myself included. We were able to partner with the NAACP and it was a really powerful coalition. At one point the NAACP held a press conference and said *Look: the MAP test is the tool that’s used to decide who is in AP classes which are overwhelmingly white. This is a tool of institutional racism and tracking and the MAP tests have long played that role. If this is the metric that we use to decide who is advanced and who isn’t, and only white children end up being identified as advanced, then something clearly isn’t working.* EduShyster: In your new book, More than a Score, you argue that the movement against high-stakes testing actually started with civil rights activists. Explain. Hagopian: The first major test resisters were Black intellectuals. Horace Mann Bond has a beautiful passage where he describes how these tests are used to rank and sort our children and how, when you test the kids in the rich neighborhoods who have access to all of the resources and of course they do better. It has nothing to do with intelligence—it has to do with access to resources. What he wrote in the 1930’s is exactly what we see happening in our schools today. Or W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP, who spoke out against early standardized tests because they were grafted onto the public schools via the eugenics movement, the idea being that it was possible to prove white supremacy through *scientific* methods. He knew from the very beginning that these tests were designed to show Black failure, and they’re still showing that. The fact that there’s been such a stability of test scores—that rich white students score the best—shows that these are a tool for ranking and sorting. And increasingly these tests are being used to shut down schools in poor neighborhoods and which serve predominantly students of color. EduShyster: Here’s where I have to channel one of my favorite critics. Let’s call him Math Teacher, because that’s the name he uses when we tangle on my blog. He teaches at a Boston charter school, and as he’ll be quick to ask, if those schools are failing to teach kids at the most basic level, should they be kept open? Hagopian: That’s a great question. I think we have acknowledge that, as much as I vehemently defend our public schools against corporatization and what I call the testocracy, our schools have long played the role of ranking and sorting students into different strata of society and have long sorted students of color in particular into the bottom. There’s a tension in public schools because on the one hand they play that ranking and sorting function, but on the other hand they hold radical democratic possibilities to empower people with the knowledge that they need to transform society. That’s why schools are contested spaces and why every civil rights movement in our history has been focused on the schools in some way. We need to transform our school system. The question is *who are the best people to do that?* And the best people to do that are teachers and parents—not billionaires or the one percent. That sorting process worked out just fine for them. EduShyster: What if the billionaires suddenly decided to transform the public schools into the sorts of schools where they send their own kids? Hagopian: I’ve often said that the MAP boycott didn’t start at Garfield High School, but Lakeside High School, where Bill Gates went and where his kids go. The private schools for the elites never administer the MAP tests and all of these other tests because for their children they want the performing arts, creativity, time to develop their children into leaders, libraries with tens of thousands of volumes, study abroad programs, Olympic swimming pools. But they want for our kids rote memorization and that’s getting *career and college ready.* We say *what’s good enough for your child is good enough for ours.* EduShyster: Garfield High is associated with rabble-rousing teachers because of the successful MAP boycott, but students there are really active too. I follow you on Twitter, so I know that in addition to walking out to protest the Ferguson decision, students also walked out over budget cuts. Are all of these walkouts getting in the way of their test prep? Hagopian: Garfield High is going through an incredible season of student activism. I’m the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School, whose members were recently recognized by the Seattle Human Rights Commission for being rising human rights leaders. After the Darren Wilson decision, they called a meeting in the cafeteria, held a speakout, then 1,000 students marched out of Garfield and to a rally at the NAACP. I happened to be driving down the road and had to pull over because all of a sudden here come 1,000 students chanting *hands up, don’t shoot.* The students will tell you that the problem isn’t just in Ferguson or on Staten Island, but with institutional racism. They look around and it’s there in the Seattle Public Schools with, for example, disproportionate suspension rates for minority students. They feel like it’s their responsibility to highlight these issues and to act on their own behalf. They’ve become the teachers. They’re teaching a whole city about the depths of racism in our society and what it means to stand up for what you believe in. That’s exactly what education should be about. These students didn’t just become activists overnight, by the way. The last few years, students protested against budget cuts at Garfield High, followed by the successful MAP boycott that galvanized our whole community, and really demonstrated to students and teachers the power of standing up. I think what I’m most proud of is that we’re actually showing what the alternative to rote memorization and standardized curriculum looks like. — Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the co-advisor of the Black Student Union at Seattle’s Garfield High School. He is the editor of More than a Score: the New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. His website is: http://www.IAmAnEducator.com Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.