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Aaron Regunberg: Rhode Island Teachers, Stand Up!

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Recently, I posted an opinion piece that laid out, as clearly as I could manage, the faulty logic and problematic consequences of our nation’s terrible obsession with standardized testing. In the following days I received a large number of messages from teachers in Providence and elsewhere expressing their frustration and sadness with this “standardized test-ification” of their professions, their schools and—most of all—their students’ learning.

It seems like the vast majority of teachers across the country are feeling similarly disturbed by the current state of public education and “education reform.” They know that the curriculum narrowing and mind-numbing test prep and constant pressure to teach to the test are damaging the quality of their students’ education, and they do not want to be a part of it.

Yet for the most part, we are not seeing any broad-based resistance to high-stakes testing on the part of teachers. Until this week.

This week, the teaching faculty of Seattle’s Garfield High School voted unanimously to refuse to administer the district’s standardized tests this semester. From their released statement:

“In perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School will announce this afternoon their refusal to administer a standardized test that students in other high schools across the district are scheduled to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test, it purports to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math. The teachers contend that it wastes time, money, and precious school resources.


‘Our teachers have come together and agree that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,’ says Kris McBride, who serves as Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator at Garfield. ‘Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.’


…Refusing to administer a district-mandated test is not a decision the school’s teachers made casually, or without serious internal discussion.


‘Those of us who give this test have talked about it for several years,’ explained Mallory Clarke, Garfield’s Reading Specialist. ‘When we heard that district representatives themselves reported that the margin of error for this test is greater than an individual student’s expected score increase, we were appalled!’


…After the affected faculty decided unanimously to make a stand against the MAP test, they told the rest of Garfield’s faculty of their decision. In a December 19 vote, the rest of the school’s teachers voted overwhelmingly to support their colleagues’ refusal to administer the test. Not a single teacher voted against the action.”


My hope and prayer is that teachers across the country, and particularly here in Rhode Island, find inspiration in this courageous act of resistance by the teachers of Garfield High School.

Of course, I do not mean to criticize the vast majority of teachers who are not on the front lines fighting these issues. There are lots of significant reasons why teachers do not stand up and speak out against the policies they know are hurting their students. As a friend of mine recently published in a great list in Education Week :

“[First,] lots of people do things they'd rather not do, for money: Waitresses accept repeated abuse from customers, secretaries cover for feckless bosses, miners go to work in leveled-off mountaintops…Teaching--in addition to being a calling and a sacred privilege--is also a job.

[Second,] teachers do what they're told to do for a more important reason than losing gainful employment. They do it because they may never be able to teach again, a fate far worse than being fired from a single job . The goal is to change the system, not to elevate your personal viewpoints…A teacher who speaks out, as an experienced professional, and loses her job is one less warrior, not one more.

[And fourth,] in professional work, choices guided by practice-based wisdom and evidence are honored. ‘Best practice’ is shared, rather than directed. But teaching--for reasons too numerous to list here--has never been considered a genuine profession. A teacher who speaks truth to power about what we're doing to kids, or refuses to keep them in at recess or spend endless hours in test prep is easily positioned as an outlier. Or uppity. Even by his own colleagues.”

As I am not and have never been a professional teacher, I am in no position to comment on the incredible pressures so many educators face to keep their heads down and go along with misguided “reforms.”

But I do know that we will never turn this tide around until we have a broad-based resistance movement among teachers (working together with parents and youth). This will require a lot of educators to take some very real risks—that is a part of the game. It is an incredibly scary prospect, and the sacrifices involved are real. But teachers sacrifice for their students every day of the year, right? To all the fed up Rhode Island educators out there, I have this to say: your students need you. They need you to stand up. It will not be easy. But your students need you.


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