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.