By November 23, 2014 Uncategorized 15 Comments

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know I am not a big fan of high stakes testing. Okay, that is an absurd understatement. I have a intense disdain for high stakes testing. As Diane says, it is educational malpractice.

Many of us believe this because we have seen first-hand the negative implications of using student test results to rank, sort, and punish schools, teachers, and students. The widespread repudiation of test-based accountability has become a central purpose of this blog and one of my missions in life.

Corporate reformers and the politicians who serve as acquiescent accomplices have wagered the bank on the fact that the results of high stakes testing will support their narrative that public schools in America are awful and need to be replaced.

They are also doubling down on a out-of-date educational paradigm that will leave our children ill-prepared for success in a rapidly evolving, innovation-based 21st workforce. By forcing schools to comply with a rash of regressive and punitive reforms, they are hampering school leaders from implementing the type of true reforms that need to take place in our education system.

The reformers’ efforts are pernicious and intentional. I contend there are entities seeking the deconstruction of the American system of public schools in the interest of unadulterated greed, and, in some cases, to support a more insidious intent of creating what fellow blogger John Thompson refers to as “neo-Plessyism,” or a state of separate but unequal schools in America, particularly in our urban centers.

This has caused a considerable amount of unrest in schools and communities across the country. As you are aware, I spent a short time in Superintendent Barresi’s crosshairs after 800 parents from my school exercised their right to opt their children out of field tests during the 2013 spring testing session.

This past year, Dr. Barresi and her staff intentionally excluded Jenks and Owasso Public Schools from field testing to avoid any negative publicity from our engaged, educated parents.  Barresi’s apparent mindset was: “If you can’t beat them–do what you can to silence them.”

In the past week, we have learned about two courageous first grade teachers at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa: Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren. Their story has been superbly told by the Tulsa World’s education writer, Andrea Eger, in a series of articles over the past few days.

In today’s piece, Andrea starts by asking the simple question: “Why are two first-grade teachers risking the jobs they love to take a stand against new student tests and surveys?”

Her answer: Because they know they’re not alone.

I honestly hope that this is true. While I am certain that many teachers and parents have similar feelings about the expansion of testing and its use in quantifying effective teaching, how many others are willing to take a stand like Nikki and Karen?

These two educators have bravely chosen to go way out on a limb, say NO, and do what they believe is in the best interests of the students they teach and love. Will they make this jump safely or will they fall short?

A review of some recent history is in order. Nikki and Karen’s decision to boycott the administration of the district’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) is very similar to what occurred at Seattle’s Garfield High School last year.

If you recall, In January 2013,  the entire faculty at Garfield High School voted unanimously not to administer the MAP test of reading and mathematics.

Garfield’s testing coordinator, Kris McBride, planted the seeds of revolution in December 2012 when she told frustrated remedial-reading teacher Mallory Clarke, “You can refuse to give the test!” The two women first sought—and won—support from the language arts and math departments, then asked for the backing of the entire teaching staff. With a few abstentions, Garfield teachers unanimously voted to support a boycott of the January-February cycle of MAP tests. Garfield teachers sent multiple letters, emails, and voice mails to the office of the Seattle School Superintendent Jose Banda after their December vote, with no response. So on Jan. 10, 2013, they staged a press conference.

The Seattle Teachers’ Association published the following statement on behalf of the teachers of Garfield:

We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school. We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school and our students. We want to be able to identify student growth and determine if our practice supports student learning. We wish to be evaluated in a way so that we can continue to improve our practice, and we wish for our colleagues who are struggling to be identified and either be supported or removed. The MAP test is not the way to do any of these things. We feel strongly that we must decline to give the MAP test even one more time.

Then an email from Superintendent Banda hit their in-boxes with a clear and unmistakable message: that a teacher boycott of the district’s MAP test was intolerable and any teachers involved in the boycott would face, at minimum, a ten-day suspension.

The national ripples were immediate.

A February 6 National Day of Action in support of Garfield teachers inspired rallies across the country. In Chicago, for instance, parents at 37 schools gathered signatures on anti-testing petitions. Banda’s office was “bombarded” with emails.

An International Day of Action in May 2013 brought support from teachers and parents in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

In the weeks and months following the Garfield declaration, teachers at six other Seattle schools joined the MAP boycott. When Banda’s office ordered school administrators to give the test anyway, local families added power to the revolt, with about 600 students opting out of the winter tests.

Banda convened a task force to study the issue, and in May 2013, he announced a partial reversal of district policy: MAP testing now is optional for the district’s high schools. Despite the early threat of 10-day unpaid suspensions, no teachers were punished for refusing to administer the MAP.

Incidentally, earlier this year Superintendent Banda accepted an offer to become the superintendent of Sacramento Public Schools.

In short, the teachers won.

Garfield teacher, Jesse Hagopian, said: “This wasn’t just a victory against one test. This was a victory for a key concept: that teachers should be consulted about issues like testing and what kinds of learning are best for our students—before districts go to high-paid consultants and billionaires for solutions.” 

This brings us back to Nikki and Karen. I believe these educators have provided a strong and cogent explanation for their position. THIS letter they sent to the parents of their students was articulate and passionately written.

Like the teachers at Garfield, Nikki and Karen are not troublemakers. They are not arguing against the use of reasonable assessments to gauge their students’ learning and inform their instruction. They are simply saying that the MAP is the wrong way. Additionally, they are arguing that the use of surveys for first grade students as a component of teacher evaluation is developmentally inappropriate.  As a result, they refuse to continue to play the game.  Their jobs are on the line and they know it. The bottom line is that Nikki and Karen have put the interests of their students ahead of their own.

What remains to be seen is if this effort will be successful. That is up to the teachers and parents of Tulsa Public Schools. If they believe Nikki and Karen are wrong in their actions, they will leave them alone on an island where they will be forced to either fall into compliance or be disciplined or terminated for insubordination.

On the other hand, if this serves to energize other educators and parents in Tulsa and across the state, people will have to take notice. As Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said in Andrea’s article today: “It wouldn’t take a whole bunch to have those two become 200. Teachers are not on board with this — they were uninvited to the conversation about assessments. My view is this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Depending on our level of support, Nikki and Karen are either being courageous or crazy. Do their actions truly represent the tip of an iceberg, or just a few random pieces of floating ice? I sincerely hope it is the former.

Either way, they have earned my respect and admiration.

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