Some 6,000 high school seniors in Washington are at risk of not graduating because they haven’t passed one of the myriad of high-stakes tests, including the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core aligned language arts and math exams, as well as a biology end-of-course exam. These students could have met all the other requirements, excelled social and academically in school, and yet be denied a diploma from a test-and-punish political system that is completely out of control.
However, because of the massive uprising of the opt-out movement in Seattle, Washington State, and around the country, politicians are being forced to reconsider the testing graduation requirements. There are currently two bills in the Washington State legislature that could help alleviate the pain.
House Bill 1046 would complete eliminate the requirement to pass any of the high-stakes exit exams for graduation. Proponents of corporate education reform, such as Stand for Children and the Business Roundtable, opposed the House bill and the Senate then drafted Bill 5891, which would only eliminate the biology end-of-course exam as a requirement for graduation—until the year 2021.
On Thursday, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, announced he is asking the legislature to reach a compromise that would suspend all of the graduation test requirements until 2019. Then students who don’t pass one of the exams would have six alternative ways to graduate, including reaching a minimum score on college-entrance exams or taking a college-level course.
Let’s be clear: 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.
Let’s be clear about another thing: none of these proposals to lessen the cruelty of the testocracy would have been possible without rebellion from parents, students, educators, and community members who have demanded an end to over-testing. From the student walkouts of high-stakes tests, to the teacher boycotts, to the parent opt-outs, it has been the grassroots struggle that has proven most important in changing the narrative about abuses of standardized testing and the authentic assessment alternative.
One of the champions of this movement is Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair for Seattle (and a three state region). 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. Read her story and then contact a Washington State Legislator to let them know our children are more than a score.
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?
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.
“Opt out now”: The Seattle NAACP revives the legacy W.E.B Du Bois, demands an end to Common Core testing
“…the Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.” -Gerald Hankerson, current President of the Seattle/King County NAACP
“It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [first] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.” –W.E.B Du Bois, Co-founder of the NAACP
On Tuesday, April 7, 2015 Gerald Hankerson, the President of the Seattle/King County NAACP and Rita Green, the Education Chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP, began our press conference with a powerful idea and a call for action that holds the potential to help produce a tremendous social transformation. Together their opening remarks at the press conference—a gathering of parents, teachers, and community leaders that I helped to organize in opposition to the Common Core “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC) tests—represent a clarion call to both education advocates and social justice activists across the country. Their simple, yet mighty, proposition is that the movement to oppose high-stakes standardized testing and the Black Lives Matter movement (and other struggles against oppression) should and can unite in a great uprising in service of transforming our schools into an environment designed to nurture our children, in body and intellect, rather than to rank, sort, and reproduce institutional racism.
Hankerson, kicking off the event, referenced the “long and ugly history” of using standardized tests in an effort to establish white supremacy. This is a history that the corporate “testocracy” is desperate to insure remains hidden from the public, as the uncovering of this history would bury their attempts to claim that standardizing testing is the key to closing the “achievement gap.” As the social justice education periodical Rethinking Schools recently editorialized,
“Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.”
One of these early eugenicists was Carl Brigham, a professor at Princeton University and author of the white supremacist manifesto, A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham left Princeton during WWI to develop and administer IQ tests used to sort the grunt soldiers, who would be used as cannon fodder, from the officers who would oversee the war. Upon the conclusion of the war, Brigham returned to Princeton and developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT, that came to be used as a gatekeeper to Princeton. Soon standardized tests became commonplace in the public schools. As Alan Stoskepf wrote, “by the early 1920s, more than 2 million American school children were being tested primarily for academic tracking purposes. At least some of the decisions to allocate resources and select students for academic or vocational courses were influenced by eugenic notions of student worth.” It should be no surprise, then, that some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. In a statement that that is still denied by the testocracy today, Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote:
But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.
Bond was expressing then what is now called the “Zip Code Effect,”—the fact that what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture, resulting in wealthier, and predominately whiter, districts scoring better on tests. Of course you would expect the testocracy—mostly comprised of billionaires and the politicians who protect them—to ignore the history and powerful message of these early 20th century Black intellectuals who were in the struggle against the impacts of inequality on the schools. But what saddens me is that the national NAACP organization today has forgotten one of the most important lessons of its founder, the great W.E.B. Du Bois —one of the towering figures in the history of the struggle against both racism and standardized testing. Recently, the national NAACP came out in support of maintaining the requirement of annual standardized testing for the reauthorization of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. But as Seattle/King County NAACP Education Chair, Rita Green, stated at the press conference, “If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.” With President Hankerson and Education Chair Green’s direction, the Seattle NAACP is reviving the great lessons of the Black struggle and advocating for the kind of direct action against injustice that propelled the civil rights movement. President Hankerson concluded his opening statement (watch the full video of the press conference here) with these unequivocal words:
“It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians being accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. We are calling on all parents to opt out and opt out now!”
Here then is the entire statement of the Seattle/King County NAACP on SBAC Common Core testing:
It is the position of the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP to come out against the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, commonly referred to as SBAC. Seattle and Washington State public schools are not supplied with proper resources and a lack of equity within our schools continue to exist. The State of Washington cannot hold teachers responsible for the outcome of students test results; when these very students are attending schools in a State that ranks 47th out of 50 States in the Nation when it comes to funding education. Furthermore, Washington State cannot expect the majority of students to perform well on increased targeted performance assessments while the State continues to underfund education in direct violation of a Washington State Supreme Court Order. We also know that our students of color are disproportionately underfunded and will disproportionately be labeled failing by the new SBAC test. For this reason, we view the opt out movement as a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice. Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history. It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians be accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers. We urge families to opt out of the SBAC test and to contact their local and state officials to advise them to abide by the State Supreme Court McCleary decision to fully fund education. –Rita Green, MBA; Seattle King County NAACP Education Chair
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Garfield High School educators thank Nathan Hale High School for their resistance to Common Core testing
Below is the thank you letter that educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School wrote to Nathan Hale High School for their courage in taking the lead in the movement to oppose the new “Smarter Balanced Assessment,” Common Core Tests. Their example helped inspire Garfield to win a major victory against the SBA test, and has helped ignite the opt out movement around Seattle. Seattle’s opt out movement is now the largest in the city’s history. Thank you Nathan Hale!
Garfield High School’s open thank you letter to Nathan Hale on the Smarter Balanced Assessment
We are writing to congratulate you for taking a bold stand against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing. Your school Senate’s vote to oppose the SBA has helped many all across Seattle find the courage to join this growing movement for authentic assessments. We educators at Garfield High School also find great objection to the SBA, including:
- Loss of instructional time
Projections estimate that the SBA will take students some 9 hours to complete. However, our colleagues at schools around Seattle have reported that the SBA is taking much longer. This is an unacceptable loss of class and learning time.
- Failure and demoralization by design
The SBAC and our state’s politicians agreed on a “cut score”—meaning the score that indicates if a student has not passed the exam—which they project will fail at least 60% of students in math and reading. Educators and our professional organization were not consulted about the cut scores, revealing that their determination was a political decision rather than an educational one. We believe in high expectations and supporting our students to reach ambitious goals. We do not believe in rushing to implement an exam—one that has not even yet been shown to be reliable by the test maker’s own admission—that will result in mass failure and demoralization of children.
- Loss of library and computer labs
In addition to students losing class time to take the test, our computer labs are monopolized for weeks with test taking and cannot be used for educational purposes. Because we have a computer lab in the library, the library is shuttered for learning and research while the SBA is administered. This disproportionately impacts students from lower income families who are more likely not to have computers or Internet at home. We object to our educational resources being squandered in this way.
- Technological breakdowns
The needed technology and IT support was not implemented and schools have reported technological breakdowns with the online administration of the SBA. We know of several Seattle schools where students have lost hours futilely attempting to log on to the exam. At other schools the wrong codes were given to administrators of the test and students wasted an entire week administering what turned out to only be the practice exam and they are now required to spend another week taking the actual SBA. The failure to properly equip the Seattle schools with the training, technological upgrades, and the IT support needed to administer the SBA is evidence that our district is not ready for the exam.
- SBA is not a valid test
The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has confirmed that the Smarter Balanced Assessment has not yet been shown to be a valid test. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium acknowledged this in a recent memo where they wrote that they have not yet determined the “external validity” of the exam.
- Special Needs Students negatively impacted
Students receiving extra support—our English Language Learners, Special Education students, and students in math support—are especially negatively impacted by the over testing that the SBA is contributing to. These students are in need of MORE instructional time and will lose more precious class time hours to the SBA. As well, the glossary provided for ELL students taking the SBA is not translated into all the languages our students speak, most notably none of the African languages—a clear violation of the students’ rights and further indication of the invalidity of the exam.
As a result of the above considerations, Garfield’s staff takes the following positions on assessment and the SBA:
- Authentic assessment
While we oppose the SBA, we want to be clear that we in no way oppose assessment. We believe that assessing student learning is a vital component of an effective classroom and a high preforming school system. This is why Garfield teachers joined a city-wide teacher created organization (along with representatives from Nathan Hale) in 2013 called, “The Teacher Work Group on Assessment” which created guidelines called “Markers of Quality Assessment” that defined authentic assessments as those that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test-taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class, and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow students opportunities to go back and improve; and undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators. Since then Garfield educators have begun to research, develop, and implement authentic forms of assessment in order to scaffold student learning and advance the understanding of a given concept (as reported in the Seattle Times and documented in the forthcoming film, “Beyond Measure”).
- Educators have a professional responsibility to oppose flawed testing
Creating an education system that supports students to reach their potential will require educators asserting their professional expertise about flawed exams. We are fortunate that at Garfield there is a high level of consciousness about limitations of high-stakes testing and the SBA. In fact, the students who are being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade.
At Garfield students already take the state HSPE exam, the ELA, the EOCs, the AP test, the PSAT, the SAT, and others. The over use of standardized testing was one of the things that led the staff at Garfield High School, and several other schools, to refuse to administer the MAP test. When we took our stand against the MAP test, Nathan Hale educators sent us a statement of support that meant a lot to us–and it was collective action and the power of solidarity that was finally able to scrap the MAP test. Can you imagine the conditions we would be facing if educators, parents and students hadn’t boycotted the MAP test and the Superintendent hadn’t rescinded the MAP testing requirement? If the MAP was still mandated for high schools it would require an additional two to three standardized tests per year, resulting in hours more of lost instructional time.
- Parents have the right to decide what is best for their children
This year we have had so many parents flood the school with opt out forms that teachers don’t have to decide whether we should administer the exam or not because there aren’t enough students who have been given permission from their parents to take the test to warrant taking whole classes to the computer lab to administer the exam. Parents exercising their right to opt out have allowed us to retain valuable instructional time. This mass opt out strategy of parents is a victory for student learning because it will allow teachers to keep teaching.
Nathan Hale, thank you for taking the first step in demanding the very best in assessment for all students. The thoughtful process and the through research you conducted around the SBA raised awareness for everyone in the city about the pitfalls of the SBA. By raising this issue you have helped speed up that day when all of our students are evaluated with assessments designed to understand their thought process, nurture a love of learning, and promote critical thinking, rather than simply to punish.
Staff members at Garfield High School
Seattle’s Garfield High School Opt Out Movement Scores Huge Victory over “Smarter Balanced” Common Core testing!
What will happen at Garfield High School with Common Core testing? I have been asked this question by people all over the country as they learned that this would be the first year that Common Core testing would come to Washington State. All year, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School have debated whether to administer the new Common Core test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). Garfield High School became a leader in the movement for authentic assessment in 2013 when the staff voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, and were joined by the parents and students in a mass opt out campaign. After the tested subject teachers were threatened with a ten day suspension without pay for refusing to administer the MAP, the superintendent finally gave in at the end of the school year and announced that the test would no longer be mandatory at the high school level. Many took inspiration from the MAP test boycott, and during the ensuing months an “education spring” was born as students, parents, and teacher’s refused high-stakes testing across the country. This ongoing education spring has now produced the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history, highlighted by the 60,000 students who were opted out in New York State alone. Many teachers at Garfield knew that as a faculty that helped ignite the struggle for authentic assessment, it was important to send a clear message against the new SBA testing that in many ways is worse that the MAP test. Then Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School Senate—the governing body of the school comprised of educators, administrators, parents, and students—announced that the school was going to refuse to administer the SBA test. This was a huge inspiration for our staff, but then the Superintendent of the Seattle Schools issued public statement that threatened to suspend teachers who gave notice that they would refuse to administer a standardized tests—and terminate the teaching licenses of any teacher who refused to administer a test without giving notice. This threat gave Garfield’s staff pause—and yet some of my courageous colleagues continued to express that they would join the “Teachers of Conscience” movement. Then an amazing thing happened. Parents began organizing a mass opt out campaign. The Garfield PTSA invited Dr. Wayne Au, author of “Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality,” to explain the problems with the SBA. We soon realized that the students who were being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade back in 2013! I am excited to announce that the parent opt out campaign at Garfield High School has resulted in 221 students already opting out of the 11th grade SBA with two weeks to go before the test is supposed to be administered! In fact, so many students have opted out of the Common Core tests that the decision whether to administer the test or not was taken away from Garfield educators; with so many opt outs, the majority students in every class wouldn’t be taking the exam and therefore it is against the testing rules to have them in the computer lab while the test is being administered. What this means is that the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the exam and instead the school administration will have to pull the individual students out who will be taking the test and take them to the computer lab. The fact that we have scored this resounding victory against Common Core testing, before the mass flunking of our students with an invalid test, is a wonderful thing. And it isn’t only Garfield and Nathan Hale—hundreds of students have opted out of the SBA test at Ingraham High School, and Roosevelt High School. In fact, with dozens of schools across Seattle with parents reporting opt outs, the city is now experiencing the most opt outs in its history. These tests are designed to obscure the things that matter most—such as collaboration towards a common goal. Seattle’s educational leaders at schools across Seattle are teaching an immeasurable lesson by demonstrating the power of collective action against injustice.
New Seattle Test Boycott Erupts: Nathan Hale High School votes to refuse to administer a Common Core test
This afternoon the Nathan Hale Senate (functions as Building Leadership Team) voted nearly unanimously not to administer the SBAC tests to 11th graders this year.
The Senate also recently voted not to administer the PSAT test to 10th graders at all in the future.Reasons for refusing the SBAC for 11th graders included (summary):1. Not required for graduation2. Colleges will not use them this year3. Since NCLB requires all students pass the tests by 2014, and since few if any schools will be able to do that, all schools will therefore be considered failing by that standard. There is thus no reason to participate in erroneous and misapplied self-labeling.4. It is neither valid nor reliable nor equitable assessment. We will use classroom based assessments to guide next instructional steps.5. Cut scores of the SBAC reflect poor assessment strategy and will produce invalid and unreliable outcomes.6. Student made this point: “Why waste time taking a test that is meaningless and that most of us will fail?”7. The SBAC will tie up computer lab time for weeks.8. The SBAC will take up time students need to work on classroom curriculum.This is an important step. Nathan Hale is asserting its commitment to valid, reliable, equitable assessment. This decision is the result of community and parent meetings, careful study of research literature, knowledge of our students’ needs, commitment to excellence in their education, and adherence to the values and ideas of best-practice instruction.This resolution does not mean NHHS will refuse the 10th grade SBAC assessments, sorry to say. But the way the school went about the decision is a powerful model for other schools, and means that anything is still possible in that regard.Yay.Doug Edelstein