Huge Victory for Washington State’s Students: Exit Exam Requirement Struck Down!

Cue Pomp and Circumstance because many more Washington State high school seniors will be walking across the stage and handed a diploma!

Beginning with the class of 2020, high school students are no longer required to pass the “Smarter Balance Assessment” high-stakes standardized test to graduate. They will still have to take at least one federally mandated test during high school, but the new state law finally removes this treacherous obstacle for Washington’s students.

Let’s be clear about something: This victory against the cruelty of the “testocracy” would not have been possible without a rebellion from parents, students, educators, and community members who have demanded an end to over-testing and using a single score to judge and punish students. I edited a book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing, that details the national grassroots movement of student walkouts of high-stakes tests, teacher boycotts, parent opt-outs, that have changed the narrative about the abuses of standardized testing and the authentic assessment alternative.  Requiring exit exams to graduate has nothing to with what expert educators know about best practices for assessing students. In fact, Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” links increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams to increased incarceration rates. Study after study has reveled that these tests are a better measure of family income than aptitude. These test measure resources and proximity to the dominant culture, negatively impacting English Language Learners, special education students, students of color, and low income students. University of Washington, Bothell professor Wayne Au has relentlessly written books and articles to explain how high-stakes standardized test have been weaponized against students in poverty and students of color; he even dressed exam for Halloween!

Exit Exam
Professor Wayne Au has the most terrifying Halloween costume of all: The exit exam!

In 2013, the teachers at Garfield High School voted unanimously to refuse to administer the MAP test.  The boycott spread to several other schools in Seattle.  When the superintendent threatened the boycotting teachers with a 10 day suspension without pay, none of the teachers backed down.  At the end of the year, because of the overwhelming solidarity from parents, teachers, and students around the country, not only were no teachers disciplined, but the superintended announced that the MAP test would no longer be required for Seattle’s high schools.  In the subsequent years we saw the movement continue to develop with Nathan Hale High School achieving a 100% opt out rate of the junior class of the Smarter Balance test in 2015, with some 60,000 families opting their kids out of the common core test around Washington State.

Then in June of 2018, the Seattle Education Association, the union representing some 5,000 educators, voted overwhelming for a total halt on all standardized testing, stating,

Therefore be it resolved that SEA call for a two year moratorium on all standardized testing, at the district, state, and federal levels and to open a public forum along with SPS on the best way to assess our students. Teachers will not be compelled to assess their students using any 3rd party assessment tools.

While the moratorium has not been put into place by the school district, the bold vote was another crucial step that gave our authentic assessment movement momentum.

One of the champions of this movement is Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair for  Washington State. Below is the testimony she gave before the Washington State Legislature on March 20, 2017 to demand they stop using high-stakes exams as graduation requirements.

Hi my name is Rita Green, I am the Education Chair for the NAACP, representing the State of Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

I am here today to speak in support of removing and delinking the passage of SBAC as a graduation requirement.

First, These exam do not show, prove or measure the entire character or capabilities of students. These exams do not measure discrepancies for the students whose families pay for test prep classes to artificially drive up their test scores. [These tests measure]:

1) Working memory-how well your child can hold information in their mind & execute upon it.

2) Processing speed-how quickly your child can solve problems

3) Nonverbal reasoning- how well your child can solve problems for which they received no previous education all 3 of these are universal skills.

4) What is measured in these exams are verbal comprehension skills. This measures the cultural knowledge – words, Ideas and concepts that white people use.  These are foreign to people of color because they have nothing to do with their experience and thereby makes these exams discriminatory.

Proficiency can be measured through Course Finals, and demonstration.

Second, my daughter Brittany never passed the Math [standardized test] WASL, because she missed a passing score by 6 points. In 2009 she graduated from High School. In 2013, Brittany graduated from Lincoln University with a BS in Criminal Justice and a Law Certificate. She worked one year for City Year at a school in Baton Rouge, LA. In 2014, she went back to school and graduated in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Justice and Security Administration. Brittany plans to go back to school to get a PHD in 2018. This is a student who would not have graduated under the current WA State Graduation requirements.

How many other Brittany’s could our current law potentially hurt, harm or hinder?

Rita’s words, backed up by a mass movement, have now helped to open opportunities for thousands of high school students in Washington State.  It’s not easy to build social movements for change.  It can be hard squaring off with billionaire education reformers set on reducing teaching and learning to a score.

But we are many, they are few, and there’s power in numbers–just not the standardized test score numbers.

2 thoughts on “Huge Victory for Washington State’s Students: Exit Exam Requirement Struck Down!

  1. YAY! Thanks to all who’ve fought this fight. There are better ways to test children’s progress & the effectiveness of their teachers. If we’d invest more in schools, we’d spend less on prisons. (I’m a deputy prosecuting attorney who exclusively handles juvenile cases. I’d love to see an end to SROs and the schools-to-jails pipeline. Most of the reports I read from SROs are behavior that never would have been referred to law enforcement when I was a kid.)


  2. Lisa Simms

    I need to talk to someone about this!! I’m fighting this fight now and it’s pissing me off, it only started when my daughter a straight A student for 7 years(including K) never progressed in the MAPs test and was deemed for special education.


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