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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 responses

  1. […] Hagopian, Seattle teacher leader, reports on the chaos that accompanied the introduction of the Smarter Balanced assessment in […]

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  2. I am in total agreement with what I am seeing here. I have worked in public elementary schools for thirty four years. This year I coached a First Lego League team. We had to come up with a question that addresses improving learning. One of the fifth grade students noticed how students struggled with keyboarding and word processing. We decided to address this. We started a before school keyboarding club using a district purchased program, although one filled with problems. The amount of excitement we generated was surprising to me. Parents and teachers commented on the lack of instruction of these skills, yet with the expectation of being able to use these skills. Many students are experiencing twenty first century bias because of their lack of technology skills.

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  3. […] School. As I reported last week, Garfield educators were debating about how best to oppose the new deeply flawed Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core tests, when the parents spoke and opted […]

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  4. This is hopefully the beginning of the end for Common Core and SBAC high stakes testing

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  5. […] At other Seattle schools, it isn’t a revolt. It’s a “meltdown.” […]

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  6. […] Moreover, young kids often struggle with the basic mechanics of answering questions on the new computer administered tests.  As one Seattle elementary teacher wrote about Common Core testing this year, […]

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