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.
What is a “Twitter Chat?”
It’s an effective and fun way to get like-minded (and sometimes not-like-minded) folks discussing a specific topic. In this case, it will be about issues discussed in “More Than A Score.”
In order for something to be a “Twitter Chat,” all involved members MUST use a hashtag in every single tweet, which is “#MoreThanAScore.” The chat will not work if no one includes the hashtag in their Tweet.
When: December 1st, 8:30pm EST.
Where: Twitter! If you don’t have a Twitter account, signing up is easy and free. If you need help, please do not hesitate to reach out.
How To Help: Begin spreading the word! Invite your friends to the Facebook Event. You can even start sending out some sample tweets: “Want to learn more about #MoreThanAScore? Join us on Dec 1st at 8:30pm EST for a twitter chat to learn more!”
- Stephanie Riviera (@stephrhonda), a student at Rutgers Graduate School of Education in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is an educational justice activist and future social studies teacher. She blogs at Teacher Under Construction.
- Helen Gym (@parentsunitedpa) is a community and education leader whose work supports the right to a quality public education for all children. She is a cofounder of Parents United for Public Education, a citywide parent group focused on equitable school budgets. Helen also leads the board of Asian Americans United, focused on youth leadership, community development, and advocacy for Philadelphia’s Asian American and immigrant communities.
- Peggy Robertson (@PegwithPen) serves as president of United Opt Out. She has taught various grades from kindergarten through sixth, beginning her career in Missouri and continuing in Kansas, for a total of ten years. She earned her master’s degree in English as a Second Language at Southeast Missouri State University. She currently is an instructional coach at an elementary school and devotes the rest of her time to her work at United Opt Out National. Her blog can be found at http://www.pegwithpen.com.
- Representatives from Fair Test (@FairTestOffice). The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.
On Monday after school, members of the Garfield High School Black Student Union (BSU) gathered in my classroom, along with my co-advisor of the student organization, as we braced for the grand jury decision in Ferguson regarding officer Darren Wilson’s killing of unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown.
None of these students were there to find out what the fate of Officer Wilson would be; they told me they knew Wilson would not be made to face a trial because the institutions of our society do not respect the lives of Black youth. They gathered instead to hold each other up when the inevitable news dropped, and to reaffirm that Black lives matter, no matter what the prestigious and powerful believe.
As the time dragged on, we found out that the grand jury decision would not be made public until later that night. And as we packed our belongings to leave and wished each other well, one BSU member, clearly in deep turmoil, said, “Why are they doing this to me?” His question caught me off guard and I could feel my emotions swelling. Given the look of anguish on his face, should I focus on trying to help him not be consumed with worry as he leaves the embrace of his classmates? Should I quote to him a sentiment from Martin Luther King?: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Or should I begin to recount the history of racism in this country, long used to amass wealth and power, and quote to him Frederick Douglass?: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” I was ashamed I wasn’t ready at that moment with the right words and my own tumultuous feelings about the impending announcement kept me from producing a coherent response.
I did finally manage to inquire, “What do you mean?” He explained that he had a college application due the next day, but that there was no way he could concentrate on finishing the paperwork when the news was finally released that there would be no justice for Michael Brown. An effort was made in the group to comfort him and help him understand that it was important for him to also focus on his future. But he expressed he just had to join the demonstrations that night because if it was legal to kill Black youth, then what kind of future did he really have? The BSU parted ways and planned to rejoin the next day at lunch to discuss the next steps in the struggle for justice for Michael Brown.
That evening I watched the TV in unsurprised pain as St. Louis County prosecutor—apparently turned defense attorney—Robert McCulloch announced that Darren Wilson had a license to kill Black people. There was no need for the hassle of a trial. My chest heaved as I heard him explain why Black lives don’t matter, but I tried to hide my reaction from my sons so I wouldn’t have to explain to them the vulgarity of our society. My mind turned to my BSU student—was he writing his personal essay now, or finding out who he was and what he believed as he rallied for justice in the streets?
The next morning, I joined hundreds of people in search of solace and solidarity at the local NAACP rally, which gathered just a few blocks from my school. In my remarks to the crowd, I asserted that while the media likes to talk about the “unrest” sweeping the country, the real unrest is the endless sleepless nights for Michael Brown’s parents. I asserted that what is sweeping the nation—something the media cannot acknowledge without legitimizing challenges to their own supremacy—is a politicized populace of Black people, people of color, and their allies, with a goal of uprooting institutional racism.
After speaking, I jumped in my car to make it back to school before the lunch period was over. Driving back, I was met with an amazing surprise: that very populace was blocking my way to school! I had to move over to the right because an outpouring of some 1,000 students had left Garfield High School in solidarity with Mike Brown and had taken to the streets chanting, “Hands up, don’t Shoot!” As I would soon learn, walkouts occurred across the city, including 300 who walked out of Roosevelt High School, 130 from West Seattle High School, 50 from Rainier Beach High School, dozens from Nova High School, and over a dozen from Southlake High School. In leaving the schoolhouse, these students were transformed into the teachers of an entire region as they captured headlines in the local media and eloquently explained why they had disrupted the day to challenge racism. In my years of teaching, I have never worked with a more aware and passionate group of young people—educated not by me, but by Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Darius Simmons, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, and so many other black youths whose lives were taken by racial terror.
These students were surely animated by the injustice in Ferguson, but as they expressed, they have no need to travel across the country to confront the ferocity of racism. The Seattle Public Schools are under investigation by the federal Department of Education for suspension rates for black students four times higher than white students for the same infractions. The Seattle Police Department came under investigation by the federal Department of Justice for excessive use of force, especially against people of color, and is now under a court-monitored consent decree. A recent Seattle Times article shows, “while Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012.”
A new generation of young activists in cities across the nation are confronting the contradiction of living in the “the land of the free” yet having to face militarized police when they assert the basic premise that “Black lives matter.” I hope my student finished his college paperwork (I’ll ask him about it when I see him after the break) and is accepted into college. But he and his classmates have goals beyond the individualist “career and college ready” objective prescribed by self-styled education reformers. These students have learned a lesson that can’t be taught by institutions of higher learning: Only collective action has the ability to grant the power of sight to a society unable to see you as a human being.
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). A Twitter chat for “More Than a Score” will be held Monday, December 1, at 8:30pm Eastern. The Seattle book launch for “More Than a Score” will be held at Elliot Bay Books on December 2, 7:00pm.
“It’s about watching kids cry. And throw chairs. And pee their pants. And scratch their face until it turns red or they bleed. That’s what it’s about. That’s all that it’s about.”
Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones teach first grade at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma—and they are refusing to trade in their job titles for “test prep tutor.” Declaring that they will refuse to administer a battery of tests (including the infamous MAP test, the same test I helped to organize a boycott against in Seattle), these educators have become the most recent test-defyers in a growing movement of conscientious objectors to standardized tests.
The “testocracy” is determined to reduce the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single score that they can use to deny students promotion, destabilize the teaching profession, label schools as failing, and turn them into privatized charter schools. Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones were quickly threatened with disciplinary measures by their Superintendent. If you have a message of solidarity for them, please send it to me and I will pass it on to them.
The brave actions of Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones are sure to inspire other educators around the nation who believe that education has to be about more than eliminating wrong answer choices. The civil rights movement to reclaim and redefine education has only just begun.
Below is the letter they sent home to families explaining why they refuse to administer these exams.
To the Families of the Children in our Classrooms,
First of all, we want to thank you for the opportunity to work with your children. We understand that it is difficult to drop your most precious belongings off in the hands of someone else. We understand that you are trusting us to use the best practices in teaching in order to ensure the most success for your child. Our number one goal in teaching is to keep the best interest of your child at the heart of all we do. We hope our passion, education, and dedication is evident daily.
Quickly, we want to take a moment and talk about ourselves. While we don’t want our bios to be the focus, we do want our parents and the community to have an understanding of our behind- the-scenes work and passion that we put into our jobs. We want you to know about our accomplishments, research, and experiences in order for you to have an understanding of our background and professionalism.
My name is Karen Hendren and I am currently a 1st grade teacher at Skelly Elementary. I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Elementary Education. I have teaching experience at Educare, Sand Springs Early Childhood Center, and overseas at Feltwell Elementary in England on the military base. I was assigned the Lead teacher position for First Grade. The District has entrusted me to teach Professional Development over both Reading and Math. My evaluations have always shown me to be an effective teacher.
My name is Nikki Jones and I am also a first grade teacher at Skelly Elementary. In addition to first grade, I have taught Pre-K and K for the district. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Recently, I was recognized on the cover of NAEYC’s magazine, The Young Child, as the feature teacher. Last spring, I was utilized by TPS as a model for Early Childhood in an NPR story airing over Tulsa success in implementing Early Childhood Programs. Most recently, I received the national award for Outstanding Classroom Practitioner by the organization, NAECTE, and Cengage Publishing. I serve as the State Rep for UOO as an advocate for children and their families in diminishing the High Stakes Testing monster. All of my evaluations have shown me to be an effective teacher. Both Karen and I continually pursue knowledge and understanding and have been trusted by the district to lead and represent multiple aspects of Early Childhood Education throughout our years of service.
Unfortunately, in the recent years, the mandates have gradually squelched the creativity and learning from our classrooms. The problem is that we are having to spend WAY too much time on formal assessments. All of the testing is required and some of it is classified as High Stakes Testing (HST). A high-stakes test is any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers). (Glossary of Education Reform, 2014)
This year, in first grade, your child is being asked to participate in the following assessments:
Literacy First Assessment: This takes anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour per student to administer. This is a one-on-one assessment that is to be conducted quarterly or more for progress monitoring.
“Where to Start Word List”: This assessment correlating to the F&P screening. The purpose of this screening is to level each child and ensure they are given reading instruction on their level. After going through the word lists, then the child is screened using a book on the assigned level. This assessment is done quarterly or as needed to progress monitor. It takes 20-30 minutes per child is also a one-on-one assessment.
Eureka Math: Children are to be given a whole group, 60 minute math lesson that has an “exit ticket” assessment at the end of each lesson. Yes, they want first graders testing daily over the lessons. This exit ticket is not long, but it still takes time. It equilibrates to daily testing for 6 and 7 year old children. This math curriculum also had a mid-module assessment and end of unit assessment.
iRead: iRead is a software program that the district requires children to be on for 20 minutes a day. It comes with an abundance of software issues and frustrations. The district has been working diligently on trying to get this programming to run successfully, but so far, to no avail. Part of this computer based program is a literacy screener. This screening takes place at the beginning of the year, and last 30-45 minutes per child.
MAP: Map is a computer based test that was designed as a tool for progress monitoring students in both math and literacy. This is the High Stakes Test that the district also utilizes for our teacher evaluations. It is completely developmentally inappropriate and does not provide valid data in the early childhood domain.
All of these tests, plus assessments that we utilize to document their understanding of certain content, are going on in your child’s first grade classroom. I believe you are getting the point… assessments, assessments, assessments! In our classrooms the children spend, on average, 1,510 minutes (25 hours) completing assessments. 720 minutes of those assessments are one-on-one. That means that we are tied up assessing students for at least 17, 280 minutes a school year. Your children are losing 288 hours of time with their teacher because of mandated testing. When you break down our days and count for specials, lunch, and recess, we end up with about 4 hours of instruction time. So, 288 instructional hours, or 72 days… yes, 72 days of our school year we, as teachers, are tied up assessing students with the mandated assessments. Why are our schools failing? Why are children not learning how to read? We think the numbers above answer those questions.
We understand the need for assessments. We want to progress monitor our students in order to meet their differentiated teaching needs. We value data. However, we went to college for an understanding on how to do this. We both build in-depth, all-encompassing portfolios that are a TRUE picture of the growth of our students. These portfolios do not just show math and literacy, they also show growth in cognitive development, writing, understandings of every state standard, art, identity of self, science, social studies, social-emotional development, and more. We do these portfolios so that we can have an accurate measure of each child across every domain. We have authentic assessments, off-the-shelf scholarly assessments, summative assessments, and formative assessments; all of which are paired with some sort of work sample or media documentation. Believe us, we know where our students are.
We want to share with you 4 experiences of children in our classroom during the implementation of MAP testing. The names and descriptions of these children have been changed to uphold their rights to privacy. They will all be referred to in the masculine form, but not necessarily male. The reference is strictly utilized for the flow of speech.
Student 1: This is one of the sweetest students a teacher could ask for. This student is gentle, calm, and collected. This student is learning English, but does not yet have any academic English. The student sat in front of the computer screen and tried his very best. We watched his eyes well up with tears. We watched the student nervously pull at his hair. Eventually, the student scratched red marks down his face in distress over the test. He is the oldest of the siblings. He can cook, clean, and take care of a baby better than some adults. The student knows all of his alphabet and the letter sounds in English now. This student loves writing books and can dance like no other. He is now comfortable enough to get up in front of the class and perform a talent or recite a poem. This student scored in the 1% range.
Student 2: This student has special needs and should be allowed accommodations. He looked around the room and noticed everyone clicking away even though he was still on question 6. He raised his hand and said “Why am I counting apples and he has math with lots of numbers?” He then stood up and threw his chair. I have NEVER seen this child upset to a point of acting out in this manner. This student likes Minecraft because he loves to build and is a problem solver. This student can tell you descriptive details about all characters in a story. His comprehension is far above grade level. If I give him a project over something of interest, he produces the work and utilizes problem solving skills across all content areas. He can fold paper into anything. This student scored in the 1% range.
Student 3: This student struggles with confidence in himself and because of this, is a pleaser. This student is smart; but, the test is smarter. The test is designed to adjust with the learner to meet their zone of proximal development (ZPD). However, it increasingly gets harder and harder until eventually, the student cannot answer the questions. The test is designed to reach a failing point for each child. This particular student quickly noticed that each question he answered correctly generated a more challenging question. Once out of his ZPD, the student laid his/her head down in tears and clicked through the test randomly selecting an answer, then clicking the arrow to proceed. We are talking about a student that is funny and happy. He can tell us jokes all day long. He takes care of the classroom and is in tune with peoples feelings. This student knows when he is respected and when he is not. He loves having his own personal whiteboard. He writes on it almost all day long. In doing so, he recently took what we had taught him about numbers and addition and figured out multiplication all on his own. He constructed his own knowledge of numbers to go beyond the standards. He is wise beyond his years. I believe he scored in the 11% range.
Student 4: This is a child that could be considered gifted and talented. He is reading above grade level. He does not care about a test on the computer screen. He is six years old. Ask him about nocturnal animals. Ask him about the elements in the Earth. Ask him about outer space. Ask him about anything interesting to him. Do not grade him on one test. Do not track him on one test. He takes care of all the pets in our classroom. (Rat, birds, turtle, and fish) He researches their needs and meets them on a daily basis. He teaches other students about how to care for them. He can teach over us in the content of certain animals, no doubt. He scored in the teens percentile range.
Over 85% of our students failed the MAP test. We had to meet with most of you to discuss your child’s “at risk” path and the retention they will face in third grade if they do not begin to show higher test scores. Was that a constructive meeting? No. Here is why we feel that way. The data is not valid in an early childhood setting, especially with the demographics of our community school. The test is 55 questions long in both math and reading. Our state and district want your child to be able to sit through a 55 question test that is designed to be frustrating. They make no accommodations for language or IEP’s. How can they say the data is valid when they are not even tested in the language they speak? How can they say the data is valid when they ignore what the research says about early childhood developmental capabilities? Is the data provided from MAP ever going to surpass the data that we collect, as the professionals, in our classrooms? Should we allow a child to scratch their face, throw a chair, pee their pants, lay their heads down in defeat… all over taking a test that is designed to make them fail? Nobody feels successful after taking this test because of the nature of it. Should the results of that test be an evaluating measure for how effective we are as teachers?
Then, there are the student surveys we recently were told to administer. We switched classrooms with each other and spent 2 and 1/2 hours proctoring student surveys. That looks like reading every single question aloud to every single student and instructing them on to complete a bubble sheet. There are SEVERAL questions that are unreasonable and irrational. One of the student survey questions that really got to me was “are you sleepy at school”. Yes, some of our students have erratic home lives. It’s not your fault, as parents. We are all doing the best we can do. But, life happens and sometimes children come to school after a rough night and are sleepy. The children have no time for daily naps or opportunities to rest and their bodies are growing and tired. So, what are the supposed implications of this question about being tired? Then, the surveys have an entire back page that appears to be for data collection purposes only and violates the privacy of your family.
Parents, you deserve a say in whether or not your children take the surveys. Well, its actually your right as a parent under HB 1384 and COPPA. The surveys are disrespectful to the student- teacher relationship. We don’t want our students to question our relationship or dedication to them. Putting them on the grading side does just that. It trivializes our interactions into three narrow categories: yes, no, and sometimes. How did that child feel right then in the moment? That’s what those are taking a gauge of. A “precise estimate” in the words of MAP testing. Well, a precise estimate doesn’t carry much clout with us. We know extensively what happens in our rooms, and we trust our administrators (the ones who hired us) to do the job they are trained to do and tell us if we are doing well or not. Why doesn’t the system trust the administrators? Why are we doing Student Surveys in 1st grade? Why do we feel these surveys are valid and not a complete waste of time with negative implications on the teacher-child relationship? Why are parents not informed of the private questions their child will be asked to answer?
We have so many unanswered questions about WHY we are forced to utilize MAP and Student Surveys. Last week, in search of some clarification, we submitted a letter to Dr. Ballard. He never responded personally; but, we do appreciate that he sent someone to meet with us about our concerns. However, the resolution was that we really work together to study MAP deeper. The suggestion was that we teach the test to the students. The advice was that in order to make the test less stressful for the students, we should run them through practice tests and mini computer based MAP lessons that will aid them in being more successful in taking the MAP. We are not sure how in doing so we would have a true picture of the students growth. But, moving on, basically, the districts answer was to take away more high-level learning experience and replace us, the professionals, with a computer program. The district did not address our concerns with the surveys at all.
So, families, here we are. We want you to know that we whole-heartedly love your children. We value and respect them. Your children are more than a number to us. They deserve more time in a rich learning environment, interacting with others, and growing deeper across academic and developmental domains. They do not deserve to be plugged into computers like robots.
We, in keeping with best practices, are unable to administer the MAP and student surveys to your children. They simply deserve a better educational experience than what either of those elements bring to the table. We informed the district of our decision last week. However, we felt like you had the right to know as well.
Education is about finding the deeper meaning. Education is about acting upon curiosity and utilizing creative attributes to figure something out. Education is about highlighting multiple intelligences and valuing uniqueness. Education is not squelching. Education is not standardization. We realize that we are just two teachers in a sea of many. In being conscientious objectors to these two items, we realize we are a number, just like the students in our classroom where the SDE is concerned. We realize that we are jeopardizing our jobs. But, if keeping our jobs means harming children and squelching them during a prime developmental span, then we want no part. When we walked across the stage and accepted our diplomas, when we received certifications from the state to teach, when we signed contracts with TPS, when we represented the model for early childhood education for the nation, when we accepted awards and recognition, we simultaneously accepted responsibility to uphold ethical practices and do what is in the best interest of children. The SDE has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.
Thank you for the opportunity to work with your children. Thank you for trusting us and valuing us a professionals. This is about what is in the best interest of the child. When education steps away from the child, all purpose is lost. It saddens us to put these experiences into words. It is with a heavy heart that we address our families in this way. However, we are hopeful that the district will understand the concerns and look at the research on standardized, high stakes testing in early childhood. We are hopeful that the district will stand with us in doing what is best for your children.
Miss Karen Hendren
Mrs. Nikki Jones
The rally to defend lunch and recess time at the Wednesday Seattle school board meeting was an overwhelming success. A few dozen parents, teachers, and kids rallied and testified with one message: eating and playing–lunch and recess–are human rights.
The school district began the meeting by announcing they would form a task-force that would make a recommendation on lunch and recess times within eighteen months. This absurdly long timeline to grant students their basic rights only inflamed the passions of the protesters.
Families from a diverse geographical representation of Seattle schools presented moving stories and convincing research to make an unassailable case to expand lunch and recess times in the Seattle Public Schools. One parent reveled that an audit conducted by parents in the Lunch and Recess Matter group over the last couple of weeks found some 50 schools in Seattle do not adhere to their own policy requiring a minimum of 20 min of time to eat. Parents announced that at one school, students at the back of the lunch line only had five minuets to scarf down their food before the bell rang. Others connected the loss of recess time to the increase in high-stakes testing. One African immigrant parent gave a first hand account of what it feels like to be starving and told the school board it was unacceptable that his son didn’t receive enough time to eat and is then asked to throw away his food. He told his son that he was not allowed to throw the food away and a teacher would have to do it for him–and demanded that the school district allow his son the time he needed not to waste food. A student from a south end elementary school talked about recess, the wiggles, and how much fun it is to play. Another parent delivered over 1,600 signatures that were collected on the “Save Recess” petition.
This movement is at the very beginning but has already shown great spirit and convincing arguments, including this oped by two of the new parent leaders, Dayna Provitt and Jana Robbins. The Lunch and Recess group has the potential to launch a whole new parent and teacher coalition to transform the schools to make them responsive to the communities they serve.
Here then is a round up of some of the media this new movement received in its first major action:
Reviews Are In: “More Than a Score” is “Exciting,” “Exceptional,” “With arguments to win over even the most skeptical school reformer.”
The reviews are rolling in for the book I had the privileged editing, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing, from the most prestigious book industry trade journals and progressive news outlets, and I am simply overwhelmed by the early critical acclaim—because what starts as a book club discussion, can end in an education revolution to reclaim assessment from the “testocracy.”
The reviewers have taken notice of More Than a Score’s rousing calls to action from Diane Ravitch in the foreword and Alfie Kohn in the introduction, and of the penetrating analysis of the ideas our authentic assessment movement will need defeat the test-and-punish model from the afterward by Wayne Au. And my supreme delight is derived from seeing the critics realize what I have known since all the essays were first submitted to me by the many parent, student, teacher, and administrator contributors to the book: There is a new leadership emerging across the country, with stirring stories of personal courage, in defense of public education.
More Than a Score officially releases December 2nd, 2014. Please share these reviews with your educational community, invite the contributing authors to speak to your community on our book tour, and consider preordering More Than a Score to help inspire and plan the movement against high-stakes testing at your school.
Here, then, are some of the early reviews:
The eagerly engaged voices assembled here present an action plan to combat the increase in high-stakes standardized testing currently plaguing K–12 education…the focus is on doing rather than shouting, and each essay in this anthology is a blueprint for civic action….The contributors build on Hagopian’s optimism for the blooming of an “educational spring” and make this book exceptional.
More Than a Score is an exciting book, filled with anger, passion and creative strategizing over ways to defeat standardized testing. It’s also a call to arms and a well-argued plea for educational equity and a thoughtful defense of public education, the teaching profession and student-centered learning.
Essays, speeches and interviews…come from students, parents and government officials, providing a comprehensive guide to the pitfalls of standardized testing, with arguments to win over even the most skeptical school reformer.
Shibata named More Than a Score one of “5 Books to Build a Movement for Education Justice” and writes, “When reading about education reform (coded language for privatization), it is easy to fall into a deep, dark pit of despair…. More Than a Score collects narratives from teachers, parents, students, academics and elected union leaders describing the growing grassroots resistance to testing gone mad.”
Contributing authors to More Than a Score include: 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