Seattle Teachers Vow to Boycott a New Standardized Test

But Can They Beat Back the Obama Administration?


So I have a fair amount of teacher friends and whenever I ask them how work is going, not once, ever, have they said anything about the kids they work with. They immediately start bashing administration and never once mention how kids are doing in their classes.

With that, all of these kids, if they plan to go to college, 4 year or 2 year will need to take some sort of standardized test, such as the ACT, SAT, COMPASS, or heck, even the CASAS test for the non native speakers. These tests do serve a purpose in helping prepare students for the other tests they will have to take to enter college. It's just a reality.

I understand teachers' worries about these tests being tied to what they are teaching and progress, but I'd venture this would really only effect a very, very small number of teachers who are in fact failing to be proper educators. No doubt most are excellent, but I think any of us who went through the system know that certain teachers should probably be doing something else.
Serious question: In what ways are teachers who oppose standardized assessments working on alternative methods of quantitatively measuring student progress and/or teacher effectiveness? I only ask, because it seems to me that we have a data problem in education reform. There appears to be a lot of evidence pointing to factors that contribute to student success/failure in our current systems, but how can we possibly hope to make substantive changes if we can't even figure out a way to measure and compare results?
@2 huh? Who cares about data and measurements? How does teaching to the test help our kids learn? What does a test score actually tell you about how well that child is prepared for life in the adult world? I've taught at the college level and hired staff for some plum jobs. In neither situation did test scores make a damn bit of difference who did well in my classes or who I hired. The skills that standardized tests emphasize didn't help my students and did nothing to make the people I wound up hiring stand out.

Let me be as clear as I can: we parents are sick and tired of all these tests. We don't want our kids judged by these scores. We don't want their teachers judged by these scores. And we will resist you if you try to force it on us. The movement against testing is spreading rapidly across the country. It's coming to Seattle and it will wash you away like the tide.
I see so many complaints about allegedly "teaching to the test." I used to score standardized tests, and I can assure you that this is a load of codswallop. If students have basic functional literacy, math skills, and the ability to follow the most straightforward set of instructions, they can pass just about any damn standardized test intended for K-12 with flying colors, period.

There isn't some magic, elusive "secret ingredient." There is no code to crack. There is no master password. You don't have to teach to the test. You should just teach. If you manage to do that, the students will do just fine and dandy on the test. If your students fail the test abysmally, that means some adult, somewhere, failed them. Maybe a teacher, maybe a parent, maybe an administrator who insisted on passing a student who couldn't even write his own name. But someone failed them.

These tests are not there to crush childrens' spirits or stifle their creativity. They should be easy to pass. But I see scores of students who don't know basic multiplication at 18 and/or who can't form a grammatically coherent sentence at 18. The tests are meant to catch these cases before they get that bad. And to resist them is essentially to admit that teachers don't want to be held accountable for failure to do their damn jobs.
Yeah some kids will have special struggles with the problem of working fast etc but that stuff is useful to test, too
You are all missing the point.

It is NOT about teachers not wanting standardized tests. This has been done for decades (and some of them have been popular with teachers). Some of the issue is the volume of testing which has gone up.

BUT this is about Common Core which is a completely new set of standards. Most of the math, reading and writing curriculum will change (and the math is very dramatic).

There are several issues:

- this is NOT Seattle or even Washington -centric. This is a national debate going on right now.

- These standards were NOT created by educators. Oh, they got input from teachers but there were so few teachers that helped write them that its laughable.

- Common Core has NOT been rolled out with enough notice to parents. SPS says they have been "communicating strongly with parents" - ask for that documentation and when it started.

- teachers have not been given near enough support in rolling out this new curriculum. They still don't even know which math curriculum they will use.

- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is so worried that this has been mucked up that he tweeted "White suburban moms fear CC because they worry their kids and their schools aren't that great." When you have the Sec'y of Education trash talking parents, you should wonder what the real issue is.

- the scores won't reflect on their grades? Really? Well, it will reflect on the school and don't let anyone kid you about that.

- Common Core assessments HAVE to be given by computer and that means every single school has to have enough computers and bandwidth to give it. That's money that leaves the classroom and you have to wonder where most districts will find these dollars.

This is the next education failure after NCLB.

Google Common Core fight and you will have all the evidence you need. What's really hilarious is that you have everyone from the Tea Party to liberal suburban moms up in arms. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum blog
Just to be clear, teachers are not opposed to test. Heck, teachers give tests all the time - or have you forgotten that?

The opposition is to stupid tests and to the misuse of the test results.

The Common Core is a set of academic standards written by the Gates Foundation that has been adopted by a large number of state legislatures all across the country, including Washington State. In case you haven't noticed, state legislatures (including Washington State's) are not exactly centers of expertise on education. All of these states have drank the Kool-Aid and adopted the Common Core State Standards. They also adopted a standardized set of tests called Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAs) that go with these Standards.

All of this work was done without any real engagement with anyone who works in an actual classroom, will have to teach to these Standards, or will have to administer these tests. Not surprisingly, the Standards are questionable, the tests are a horrible clusterfuck, and the implementation of the Standards has been a the most incompetent series of mistakes ever executed on this scale. But don't worry, it has been a rousing success because the implementation of Common Core has resulted in hundreds of millions - if not billions - spent on new computers because the SBAs are computer-based.

Like all corporate millionaire- and billionaire supported Education Reform, it's about the money. Either reducing the money spent on schools or diverting education funds to cronies. Tech companies are making a fortune on Common Core.

But go ahead f'n f'qs and believe that this is about teachers opposing standardized tests. And there can be lots of other idiots who want to blather about the teachers' unions, or about teacher accountability. That's not what this is really about. This is about wasting student time and spending education dollars so a few tech billionaires can make even more money.
Eleven year old children are being asked to sit through- for math alone- MSP, MAP and placement exams. This is approximately 5 hours of testing. Then, the same child is asked to sit through language arts MSP and MAP. So, we have 11 year old children being asked to sit through 10-11 hours of testing for two subjects.

This year, students are being asked to "pilot" Common Core tests in addition to regular tests. Why weren't common core tests piloted before statewide roll=out and why should teachers be evaluated on these tests?

Teachers and parents are not opposed to taking tests, it's these high stakes tests that have been introduced over the past 10 years intended to label kids, schools and teachers as failing. The trend around the US is to privatize our public schools, lay off the experienced teachers and then open charter schools. The charter schools are teamed up with Teach for America that recruit college grads that don't have a job lined up in their education of choice, want to do something admirable and are given a 5 week crash course in teaching, commit to two years and then move on. This is the reality of what is happening in our education system. Come on folks, follow the money it is crystal clear. Kids, schools and teachers are doing far more than ever before and far more then my generation of the 60's & 70's that's for sure I have a teen in public school now, so I see it.
@2 - Tests that measure crystallized intelligence are not good measures of student performance (they don't have good test/retest validity) and are even worse at measuring teacher performance. Test scores are bad data and should not be considered in education reform, no matter how pretty the graphs and tables are.

@4 - Which tests did you score?

Given that very few teachers teach a given child for more than several months in that child's lifetime, how do you propose holding any individual teacher responsible when that child has poor literacy and even worse math skills? Even a school rarely has a given child within its walls for more than a few years.

If you think any individual teacher can fix years of a child failing in public school, then you clearly learned nothing in your career in education.
The world's best public education system does not use standardized testing. That's all I need to know.
@11 Well, we can't hold the shitty parents who don't take an interest in their child's education accountable, so we focus on the one person who we can hold accountable. It's not fair for a teacher to to catch shit for the failures at home, but hey, there's no metric for shitty parenting, right?
@10 I've scored TAKS, STAAR, K-PREP, and various EOCs.

@11 Indeed, that's why I said *someone* has failed the child, and included parents and administrators (not just teachers) as those who may possibly have a part in that failure. I must have missed where I said "any individual teacher can fix years of a child failing in public school." I would never say that.

In fact, what I would primarily blame is the general lack of clear standards. There's a chaos of anything goes right now. A 4th grade teacher may have more stringent standards than an 8th grade teacher. Any given classroom may be filled with students who range from bored out of their minds by the banality of the curriculum to overwhelmed by material they are in no way prepared to handle.

Standardized testing is meant to at least get some sort of clear standard in place for what is expected of students at each grade level, instead of a the absolute chaos we have now where that is in no way clear. That doesn't mean it's succeeded in doing so in practice. Many standardized tests only add to the confusion. But that doesn't mean we need to do away with standardized testing as a whole. It means that we need better tests.

Until there's a clear, across-the-board set of standards for what students are expected to know, teachers will have no clear idea what's expected, schools will have no clear idea whether students are prepared for the next grade, parents will have no clear idea whether the school is performing as expected, and children will have no clear idea what to do. What I'd like to see are teachers who work with administrators formulate decent standards, instead of bitching and moaning that such-and-such standards aren't fair or clear enough. Be proactive about forming good tests instead of reactively bitching about tests that suck.
@4 As a teacher, I most definitely taught to the test. I taught science. My school was failing in every regard, but since math and reading are considered more important, those subjects were double blocked while science was not. My school had a 30% pass rate in science before I got my class of 8th graders. I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science to them, directly to the test, to get the pass rate up to 60%. Science was wonderful to teach because it teaches you critical thinking -- that is not what the test is about. Much of the test, for one, is a matter of vocabulary, and considering the amount of my students that were ESL students, the intricacies in vocabulary were difficult for them to grasp. Additionally, most of the questions were written in a piss poor, confusing way. As their teacher, I could assess if they understood how the earth moved in relation to the sun, but the test was so awful that questions just ended up confusing them. And that was for the questions that I was able to see. In general, we weren't allowed to look at or vet any of them. Lastly, there were something like FOUR DAYS of testing. That is absolutely ridiculous. They are 12 years old and are being forced into the same room, all day long, completely quiet, for hours on end. By the end of it, the entire school was full of zombies. EVERYone hates testing.
I am a public high school math teacher in the Seattle area (not SPS). My district has been preparing for Common Core for several years and is supposed to be implemented in my classroom next year. I have studied the standards and my reaction: meh.

Common Core is a set of standards like any of the other three sets of standards I have been required to implement in my classroom in the last eight years. Four sets of standards in eight years does not lead to instruction stability. Every time I have gotten used to one set, the state changes the standards and chaos ensues.

For me, I have no problem teaching to standards. I like knowing what is expected of me. And as a professional with a degree in math (not math education, but math) I can vouch that the standards are mostly sound. The few issues I have are with peripheral standards such as teaching spherical geometry as part of Euclidean geometry (huh?).

The problem is with the purpose and use of the standardized tests that always seem to follow these standards. Currently we have the Algebra and the Geometry EOC exam (End of Course) that are administered towards the end of the academic year. What WA State and OSPI don't tell you is that these tests are "curved" and that some percentage of students are predetermined to fail. AND in order to pass, a student only needs about 50% correct. In no way do these EOC tests assess how well a student has learned the state-mandated math standards. These tests assess how a student compares to other students in WA state on a small subset of the standards.

These EOC tests are what the Republicans in the State Legislature want to use to measure "teacher effectiveness" and use as part of my annual evaluation.

The Smarter Balance tests based on Common Core get away from this "curve" and in order for a student to pass they must demonstrate mastery of a majority (60%??) of the standards.

In terms of the number of standardized tests, WA State Law requires passing one or more EOC exam in order to graduate. State Law says nothing about passing the Common Core/Smarter Balance test. But there is a move in the legislature to replace the EOC with the Smarter Balance test. But until that change is enacted by the Legislature, students will be required to take both the EOC and SB tests.

Changing the curriculum and the test every couple of years is not the way to do that. Take a look at #16 for more information.

All also reiterate what I said @12. How is it that the best education system in the world doesn't use standardized tests? It's almost like their small class sizes and their dedication to keeping students with the same teacher for a number of years in a row are what lead to success.
@12 is right on - NO other country in the world is doing what we are doing - charter schools, vouchers, Teach for America, and a constantly changing landscape of standards and tests.

China has even ordered its school system to pull back on testing and homework and get MORE project/group based activities because they realized their kids were robots who had no ability to think analytically or innovatively.
I'm a parent of elementary school children in SPS. My kids' teachers thought the boycott of the MAP was silly, and they didn't get involved (too busy focusing on teaching, and they find the MAP data useful). They like the new standards, and are waiting to judge the assessments. My sense is that there are far more teachers that hold similar positions - but this article didn't seem to care to find any of them. I'd encourage the readers here to ask a teacher they know about the standards and coming tests.
First of all, Common Core was developed by non-educators, namely Bill Gates who wants all schools to be like Lakeside, the exclusive, prestigious private school he attended. Lakeside doesn't have autistic students, students with Down Syndrome or other special education needs. Lakeside students have parents who can pay for enrichment such as art, music lessons, yearly vacations, etc. They are involved in their children's lives. Public schools don't necessarily have this. Public schools have students with mental retardation and other hinderances to learning. Common Core and the vast amounts of tests are putting public money toward private, for-profit companies. And I guarantee that if a teacher were paid what the CEO of these testing companies get paid (with our tax dollars) there would be a HUGE outcry. The MAP test alone costs over $450G a year. Imagine if that money were used to hire tutors to help struggling students instead.
I am a teacher and I like these standards. I agree that our students are being over tested and that evidence from international studies does not support a link between standardized testing and increases in student achievement. I think teachers have also been overwhelmed by the pace of changes being pushed on us by the corporate reform movement - most of which do not seem to be backed by evidence. I also anticipate that the new tests for common core (smarter balanced assessments) will have some rough patches in the next few years.

However, I have spent a lot of time with the new standards and with the practice tests. These are better standards and better tests than what we currently have. There is a greater focus on the skills and kinds of thinking that will benefit students throughout their life. Problem-solving, reasoning, use of evidence, communicating arguments and ideas, evaluating the claims made by others, evaluating sources, assessing bias and author's purpose to name a few.

Before we had a fragmented set of standards and every state was different. Since these standards are nation wide (45 states have adopted them) people are already sharing tons of high quality, free resources for teachers to use. I can go to a conference in Oregon and collaborate with teachers on the same set of clearly articulated learning goals for students. Without national standards, states flailed and failed in attempts to develop and implement their own standards, causing frustration and confusion for teachers - and resulting in resistance to even the most positive changes.

There are many other improvements these standards bring over the standards they are replacing. While the tests also look better than the tests they are replacing, I do agree the testing is too much. I wonder how much better received tests would be if they were fewer and not high stakes - the purpose simply to give teachers and school systems data to analyze about what they are doing well and what they need to improve. I think the fear of how tests will be used puts teachers in a defensive mode instead of growth mode.
@21 - He's not exactly trying to make public schools like Lakeside, see….

But more interesting to me -- I recently toured a lot of private elementary schools, including UCDS, where Bill Gates sent his children, and they had a presentation where they bragged about all the testing your kids won't have to do here like they would at a public school. And all the private elementary schools do the same thing here -- they'll have the kids do one set of standardized tests in 4th grade for cross-school comparisons, and don't bother with the rest of them. You'd think there might be a private school out there to cater to the true believers in the value of every standardized test anyone is lobbying for, but apparently there is no market for such schools, you can only get them for free.

@22: "While the tests also look better than the tests they are replacing" - When you say "replacing" -- which tests are going away now that the state is adopting these ones, and what is the impact on total testing time? If having one standard to rule them all might lead to all the others being looked at as optional, this could end up being an improvement, but in the past the state has preferred to pile new testing requirements on top of the old ones.
Do some research; you'll find testing material is easily stacked to favor certain demographic groups over others. Result? Testing, in addition to creating high anxiety for the kids (whom I have counseled from all strata of economics), pulls the kids' attention to Performance, not to Learning; and, as used, cements racism, sexism, classism and all the usual suspects. Reading before speaking's good.
"They like the new standards, and are waiting to judge the assessments."

@20 And you know this for a fact how? Every single teacher in your child's school likes Common Core?
I call BS on this statement.

By the way, when you, as the parent, cannot help your child with his homework because YOU don't understand the "Common Core" way, good luck then.