Seattle-area high-school teachers made national headlines when they launched a boycott last year of standardized testing—refusing to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Teachers argued the exam wasted classroom time because it didn't affect student grades and wasn't aligned to what they were teaching.
As if punishing truant pupils, Seattle Public Schools superintendent José Banda threatened the teachers with a 10-day suspension. But when several schools joined the boycott, Banda backed off and killed a requirement that high schools administer the test. The teachers, after a tense standoff, had won their first fight against testing.
Now the teachers are emboldened.
Next school year, the district looks likely to battle teachers again over standardized tests—this time with even higher stakes. Common Core, a set of new education standards backed by the Obama administration, is being rolled out in 45 states. In several of them, including Washington, it's coming packaged with tests called Smarter Balanced Assessments that will hit Seattle classrooms next fall.
In interviews with The Stranger, two public-school teachers who led the MAP test boycott said they plan to boycott Smarter Balanced tests with the same tenacity. They both requested that we not name them to avoid retribution from the district.
"It seems to me like the same wolf in different sheep's clothing. How could we not boycott that?" says one longtime high-school teacher. "We objected to the MAP test because we didn't know to what standards it was addressed," she explains, and because it took time away from classrooms and computer labs. Moreover, the teachers couldn't look at the tests before having their students take it. "Smarter Balanced has all those disadvantages, but in addition, it's teaching to standards that have never been vetted in a classroom or by teachers," she says.
This could be the first-ever teacher boycott of Obama's new standards and testing regimen, with the potential to set a precedent for the rest of the country. Critics say corporate education reform titans like the Gates Foundation developed Common Core without input from teachers. Last week, Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teacher's union, issued a statement calling implementation of Common Core across the country "completely botched." He cited a new poll of the union's teacher-members in which an overwhelming 70 percent said implementation of Common Core is "going poorly."
In Seattle, another teacher says she's deliberately delaying her retirement until next year so that she can refuse to give the Smarter Balanced tests to students, and insiders expect more teachers to join the boycott.
"Teachers have contacted me from around Seattle who are very opposed to these tests and are organizing to oppose it," says Jesse Hagopian, an outspoken Garfield High School instructor who, since the MAP test boycott's success, has stepped into the national media spotlight as an advocate against excessive standardized testing.
"People are completely fighting back," says Seattle schools watchdog-blogger Melissa Westbrook, who says she's heard from parents across the district alarmed by Common Core. The district is wholly unprepared for Common Core and Smarter Balanced, Westbrook says: Teachers don't fully understand the standards, the district's computers aren't ready for the new tests, and parents won't understand how to interpret sudden drops in their kids' test scores. The district's testing administrators told me they expect students who take the Smarter Balanced Assessments to experience a drop compared to previous tests by 20 to 25 percent (which shouldn't be cause for alarm, they say, since the bar has simply been raised). The scores won't reflect on their grades or be sent to colleges.
The district maintains that it's communicating strongly with parents while teachers receive training to teach the new standards, which it says will better prepare students to compete on the world stage. "If teachers choose to boycott, we would have administrators and other staff administer the test," says Teresa Wippel, a district spokesperson.
But if teachers already killed one standardized test with a boycott last year, there's no reason to expect they can't do it again—and this time, it could trigger a cascade of boycotts nationwide.