SEATTLE: Rebellion against mindless high-stakes testing expands in Bill Gates's own backyard

The national rebellion against mindless high-stakes testing is growing among parents, teachers, students and even school administrators and school boards as the national elections approach and President Barack Obama has to justify his expansion of the Social Darwinism of "Race to the Top" in education while decrying it in other areas of American life. The latest publicized rebellion against high-stakes so-called standardized testing came to light out of Seattle courtesy of an April 3, 2012 report in the Seattle Times.

Disgusted with standardized tests, group of parents shunning them

A rebellion over standardized school testing in the Seattle Hill neighborhood southeast of Everett echoes a larger uprising around the country.

By Danny Westneat. Seattle Times staff columnist, April 3, 2012,

The folks in the sprawling suburban developments near Mill Creek and Snohomish insist they are usually rule-following types.

"We didn't go into this looking to start some big rebellion," says Michelle Purcell, a mom of three in the Seattle Hill neighborhood southeast of Everett.

But a rebellion it has become. One that echoes a larger uprising around the country.

The parents of 70 students (and counting) at one elementary school are refusing to have their kids take the standardized tests mandated by the feds under No Child Left Behind.

The no-test protest means that so far about 25 percent of the kids of testing age at Seattle Hill Elementary, in the Snohomish School District, won't be there when the school gives the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) at the end of April, as required by federal law.

They'll be in another room, doing art or science projects.

Parents have the right to opt their kids out of the tests. There's no punishment, though the kids get a zero. Handfuls have opted out over the years, often at alternative schools. A few years back a Seattle science teacher refused to give the test, saying it was harmful to students.

But state officials say parents have never pulled their kids on this large a scale.

"We're kind of shocked at the size of it," said Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state superintendent of public instruction. "No Child Left Behind is still the law of the land."

Parents at Seattle Hill say budget cuts drove them to conclude the tests were a poor use of money and classroom time.

"The worst thing is I don't see any value in the results I get back," Purcell said.

This has been a longstanding problem with the MSP and its predecessor, the WASL. Kids take the tests in the spring, but nobody sees the results until fall — when kids have moved on to a different teacher.

Even the president of Seattle Hill's parent-teacher organization is pulling her fourth-grader.

"We are a state that does testing on steroids," says Angela Cohen. "I came to the conclusion we could find much better ways to spend that money."

The state spends $37.5 million yearly on the MSP and another $10 million on the high-school test for sophomores. The main point of this protest is to ask: Is it worth it?

At Seattle Hill, class sizes have ballooned up to 29, even in some of the younger grades. Parent volunteers come in to teach art. The school has been shut down seven half-days and one full day this year for teacher furloughs.

"We're not against testing," Purcell said. "But in the context of all the budget-cutting, we're saying: Can we at least spend the money on a more useful test?"

They're not the only ones asking. Texas — the birthplace of No Child Left Behind — was in the news last month when more than 100 school districts passed resolutions saying high-stakes standardized testing is "strangling" public schools. The schools commissioner there recently likened the "assessment and accountability regime" in education to the military-industrial complex.

It all began with good intentions. The tests were billed as a way to make sure every child meets basic standards, rather than being passed through the system and forgotten.

But mostly the tests are used to try to judge whether entire schools could be considered failing — and then restructured. They weren't designed as learning aids for individual kids.

The Seattle Hill parents are walking out just as this state is doubling down on standardized testing. We're about to tie the test scores to teacher evaluations as well. That may or may not lead to better teaching. But one thing is certain: Even more time and money will be spent focusing on those tests.

My hunch: What's happening at Seattle Hill is just the first of many cries from school parents that we've had enough.


April 10, 2012 at 8:14 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Parent opt out of standardized testing

A Colorado Springs parent has launched a campaign for parent rights to opt kids out of oppressive testing. She needs letters from parents to document case for appeal to ACLU.

August 29, 2012 at 3:38 PM

By: Huong Tu

Washington standard tests

On the contrary, I believe that parents should support their children’s education by supporting standardized testing. How else would we know their progress compared to others and what is needed to be improved? I agree that the result of such testing takes way too long, we need the results in days and not months, to get them the help they needed. Even so, it does give us a direction as to how well they are doing compared to their peers in a non invasive way. By not testing, our school may also lose out on state/federal funding as well.

So yes, I do support Laura Bush’s “no child left behind" program.

On another note, I think that president Obama is doing an awesome job in supporting the American people and for having the integrity to accomplish what he had promised, more so than any previous presidents in modern history.

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