November 1, 2014

The rise of the anti-test tyranny movement

Monty Neill, Washington Post -  Across the nation, resistance to test overuse and misuse reached unprecedented heights in the spring of 2014. The rapidly growing movement built on significant test opposition unleashed in 2013.  This year, resistance erupted in more states with far more participants, and it won notable victories, such as ending, lessening or postponing graduation exams in at least eight states and easing or ending grade promotion tests.

.... The most visible, dynamic form of resistance was to boycott the tests.  In New York, 60,000 children and their parents refused to take federally mandated state tests in grades 3-8 – up from a few thousand in 2013. More than 1,000 opted out in both Chicago and Colorado, as well as in smaller numbers in other regions. Teachers boycotted at two schools in Chicago and one in New York City, while some high school students in several states walked out on tests.

Test resistance and reform campaigns used many tactics. The Providence Student Union dressed as guinea pigs, for example, to protest being used in testing experiments, and with allies launched effective legislative work that led to a moratorium on Rhode Island graduation exams. Across the nation, assessment reformers organized public forums, community meetings and house parties. Activists made powerful use of social media – Twitter, Facebook, websites, listservs – to communicate internally, build a base and educate the community. In some places, petitions proved useful tools to inform the public, expand support and pressure public officials, while rallies brought people together in highly visible ways. The growing resistance was reflected in expanded, often sympathetic mainstream media coverage, which also influenced policymakers.

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers stepped up their attacks on high-stakes testing and increased support for organizing. The Oklahoma Education Association allied with parent groups to soften grade 3 test-based promotion and helped defeat the pro-testing state education secretary. Oregon and Massachusetts NEA affiliates called for three-year moratoria on all testing consequences to allow time to overhaul state assessment systems. The Massachusetts Teachers Association is holding teacher-led testing forums across the state, and the Oregon Education Association is working with state officials to design a possible new assessment system. The Chicago Teachers Union helped organize boycotts and opt outs. Parents reported that as they organized, local unions increasingly joined with them to resist the testing onslaught.

School boards are also resisting test overkill. In New York, about 20 districts refused to administer tests used for the sole purpose of trying out items for the next year’s state exams. This fall, the Lee County, Florida, school board voted to opt out of all state-mandated standardized tests. Though it later retreated, it also voted to drop all district-required exams, as did some in Texas over the past two years. The Lee County board and others across Florida, with parent and teacher allies, are pursuing strategies to slash state test requirements.

Activists often encountered hostile bureaucratic responses, which tended to be more harsh in lower-income schools and communities, particularly ones that are heavily black or Latino. Chicago authorities bullied parents into rescinding opt-out letters, then interrogated children without parents present when they refused to take the tests. School district officials threatened to fire teachers who boycotted — but did not follow through.

Some schools and districts required children who refused the test to “sit and stare,” to remain at their desks doing nothing for hours. Parents forced many to back down. Some states, such as North Carolina, encouraged humane behavior, while most kicked the issue to districts.


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