Answering “no” to high-stakes testing

May 30, 2008

IN SEATTLE a few weeks ago, Carl Chew, a public school teacher at Eckstein Middle School, publicly refused to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test to his sixth grade class.

He took a principled stand against time-consuming and wasteful high-stakes testing (and received a suspension and media condemnation for it).

More recently, at South Bronx's Intermediate School 318, virtually the entire eighth grade class decided to boycott yet another test. The principal of that school is using this student action as an excuse to sack teacher Douglas Avella, despite the fact that Avella says he was not behind the boycott.

Unfortunately, these cases reveal yet another problem with our public school systems: principals who have too much power over hiring and firing, which makes it harder for teachers to organize and fight back against bad policy.

I won't bother addressing the arguments of pro-testing advocates. Much of this information is readily available here and elsewhere. Readers of Socialist Worker know what a waste such testing is and how harmful it is to students.

I would like to applaud the teachers and students who are standing up to high-stakes testing. They probably feel isolated and will face reprisals for their efforts. However, their actions show a way forward for everyone fed up with the No Child Left Behind Act and high-stakes testing.

Our legislators might not be listening to us, they may threaten to take away the paltry sums of money spent on education, but they can't force everyone to submit to these tests! It's especially important for students to organize and refuse to cooperate. Our students deserve better, but it's going to take organization and struggle to both defeat high-stakes testing and restore funding to our schools.

Students, teachers and parents know best how to run our education system, not legislators and the for-profit corporations who benefit from testing and privatization. For the teachers who resist testing, it's important to get support from other teachers and their unions. No Child Left Behind is an attack on teachers as much as it is on students.

The amount of money spent on public education is a drop in the bucket compared to the money spent on war and prisons. Yet it is only students and teachers who are required to be held accountable for the meager sums of money they receive.

What if the military, no-bid contractors, mercenaries and corporate welfare recipients (in oil, agribusiness and other profitable industries) were subjected to the same "rigorous" testing and harsh penalties when they fail?

After five years of occupation, we all know the scorecard--failures on every count. Imagine what we could do with the trillions of dollars freed up when the greatest recipients of government largesse fail the "No Occupation/Corporation Left Behind" test.
Nick Hart, Seattle

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