Late last month the nonprofit United Opt Out National — an organization dedicated to eliminating high-stakes testing in public schools — issued a call for the big teachers union to support teachers who decide that they can no longer administer standardized tests that they feel are harming children. I asked the unions whether they would agree, and here’s what they said.
Opting out of standardized tests grew among parents during the last school year, with tens of thousands in a number of states deciding not to allow their children to take tests. While some parents and students were harassed by school administrators for opting out, the movement appears to be growing.
Opting out is harder for teachers, who can be fired for refusing to administer a mandated standardized test. Still, they have been joining the movement though in much smaller numbers than parents.
In January 2013, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle declared that they would not administer to students the Measures of Academic Progress because they felt the exams were inappropriate for and harmful to their students. The superintendent of Seattle schools threatened to suspend the teachers but when teachers at other schools joined, he decided not to and dropped a requirement that high school students take the test. Still, younger students have to take the test, a policy that teachers may challenge this year.
Recently, teacher Susan Bowles in Florida announced she would no longer administer a kindergarten readiness test to her students, known as the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, and said she realized that she could get fired for her refusal. She wasn’t fired. A few days later, state education officials suspended the test. Shortly after that teacher Peggy Robertson in Colorado — a founding member of United Opt Out — said she would not administer to her students the PARCC test — a Common Core-aligned test being designed by one of two multi-state consortia that are working with $360 million in federal funds to create new standardized exams.
United Opt Out recently posted a call to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, “to begin to organize national, local and state affiliates to support the cohorts of teachers who refuse to administer state mandated tests inclusive of those that are aligned with Common Core State Standards.” The call also says:
UOO is asking that the unions armed with facts and courage stand up and publicly proclaim their support for teachers nationwide as they refuse to administer assessments which harm children, deprive our students of resources, and ultimately are being used to dismantle the public school system.
I asked the AFT and the NEA — whose new president, Lily Eskelsen García, said recently that teachers and administrators should ignore bad school reform policy and do “the right thing” for kids — if they would support teachers who decide to opt out of administering standardized tests that they say believe are harmful to their students. Here are the responses:
From Alice O’Brien, head of the NEA Office of the General Counsel:
“NEA supports parents who chose to exercise their legal right to opt their children out of standardized tests. When educators determine that a standardized test serves no legitimate educational purpose, and stand in solidarity with their local and state association to call for an end to the administration of that test in their schools, NEA will support those educators just as it did in the case of the teachers who protested the administration of the MAP test at Garfield High School.”
From AFT President Randi Weingarten:
“We supported teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle when they refused to give redundant tests. We supported early childhood teachers in New York when they shined the light on how abusive it is to give bubble tests to 5-year-olds. On the testing madness that’s sapping the joy from our classrooms, teachers are the canaries in the coal mines, and we support their advocacy. Ultimately, though, it’s up to parents to make the decision whether to opt out.”
Exactly what kind of support the unions will give to teachers who decide not to administer a standardized test remains to be seen.