The following statement was sent to me by Shannon Crowley, an elementary school teacher in the Seattle Public Schools. She raises a disturbing reality of yet another way that high-stakes standardized testing is negatively impacting our students of color. I will just preface her story by saying that Muslims all around the world began to observe Ramadan this past week. Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic faith to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. The month is marked by prayer, acts of charity and fasting–no eating or drinking during daylight hours. This annual observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Everyone interested in educational equity must read Shannon’s words–and then to act and demand a change.
Today I watched an 11-year-old Muslim student, observing Ramadan, melt down in front of a laptop during the state mandated SBA testing. He put his head down on the table and covered it with his hood. He was angry, at me, at the test, and probably the world. As we all know, young children have knack for rebelling against things they find unfair. Somewhere along the way, we have the unfortunate tendency to teach that rebellion out of them.
Being raised Catholic, in the Midwest, I never did anything so strenuous and rise before dawn to eat a meal, and then refrain from eating or drinking anything until sundown. I likely wouldn’t have made it. In fact, the most I was asked to do as a child was give up chocolate or swearing for 40-days of lent and not eat meat on Fridays. (But that ban on eating meat was of course lifted in the case of St. Patrick’s Day. Heaven forbid the Irish parishioners have to forgo their corned beef because it was a Friday during lent.) I don’t remember ever having to take a standardized test during lent — not that my cognitive abilities would have been challenged by giving up chocolate.
The SBA testing window, and Ramadan coincide this year, and next. It goes without saying that students do not test well when they are tired and hungry. Consequently, it can be surmised that students who are observing Ramadan, which practice of, is Constitutionally guaranteed, could attain lower scores due to an inability to preform at their academic or cognitive peak. Because of this, I believe SBA testing is not only inequitable, but also discriminatory to our Muslim students especially this year and next.
For a teacher, it is heartbreaking to watch an 11-year-old struggle with being tired and hungry, and finally meltdown during a state mandated test that already disadvantages him. I am gagged and denied my First Amendment right; I can’t tell his parents, who escaped unspoken hardships in Kenya, “Hey, this isn’t necessary. Your kid doesn’t have to take this test. It doesn’t even reflect who he is or what he knows. Furthermore, the scores come too late in the year to even let me know what more he needs as a student and a scholar.” And that’s just elementary school. I can’t even begin to imagine the undue stress placed on the Muslim 11th-graders in our district, and across the state, whose graduation and ultimately future earnings, are tied to this inane test.
Furthermore, when demographics are considered, it is fair to say that the majority of our Muslim students are students of color. Additionally, it would be fair to say that more of our Muslim students of color live in the south-end and attend south-end schools. This too sets up an inequitable situation; testing scores from schools that have high Muslim populations can be directly compared to schools with Norman Rockwellian demographics from the north-end on the OSPI website with a few clicks.
Let’s not even get into all of the notes that are sent home on district letterhead that urge parents to make sure their students are well rested and fed during testing…
It is sad when a testing consortium has the unchecked power and privilege to enlist districts, schools, administrators, and teachers as tools and enablers of Islamophobia and institutionalized racism.