Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Despite Earlier Promise To Boycott, Seattle High School Will Give Required Tests To Juniors

Joe Wolf

Eleventh graders at Seattle's Nathan Hale High School will take a state- and federally-required standardized test after all, an apparent reversal of an earlier decision by staff, students and parents to boycott the exams this year.

"The [Smarter Balanced assessment] is required by the state. Therefore, to comply with Seattle Public Schools directives, students will be tested" in April, Nathan Hale Senate chair Melinda Greene said in an email to parents Thursday.

Greene's note follows the warning Seattle Public Schools superintendent Larry Nyland issued to Nathan Hale staff last week. He said the district could suspend or fire teachers who refused to administer the exams.

It also comes after pressure from state education officials, who raised the possibility the boycott could jeopardize the state's federal funding. In Washington, high school juniors must take Smarter Balanced exams so the state can comply with the federal No Child Left Behind school accountability law.

State Compliance & Federal Funding At Stake

The Nathan Hale Senate — a building leadership team of teachers, administrators, parents, students and administrators with formal decision-making powers — voted on February 24 to not administer the exams to juniors out of concern students were taking too many standardized tests. Teachers and administrators pointed out juniors don't need to take Smarter Balanced exams to graduate.

They also noted this year's junior class has grown particularly fatigued of standardized testing. They took state tests in biology, math and reading during their sophomore year. According to principal Jill Hudson, Nathan Hale's juniors also took the PSAT last year and this year because of a federal Race to the Top grant, in addition to the SAT exam they took last January.

But Nyland's letter said the district had to uphold state and federal laws, which make the Smarter Balanced exams mandatory for this year's juniors. Because the troubles of the district's special education department have already drawn the attention of state and federal officials, he wrote "failure to give the [Smarter Balanced assessments] could further jeopardize our federal funds."

It's not clear whether the federal government itself would've withheld funding over one school's refusal to test. Though anti-testing advocates and policy experts doubt it, Hudson noted the district's high profile makes anything possible.

Parents & Students May Continue Boycott

A phone call to Nathan Hale Senate chair Melinda Greene, also an academic intervention specialist at the school, was not immediately returned Thursday. Principal Jill Hudson was also said to be out of the building.

But Doug Edelstein, who teaches an eleventh grade history course at Nathan Hale, says "the resistance at the school has taken the form of parent and student resistance."

Earlier this school year, Nathan Hale teachers, parents and students held discussions about the role of standardized testing. Minutes show members of the Nathan Hale Senate also considered a "Plan B": simply distribute information to parents on how to refuse testing.

Edelstein, who is not a member of the Nathan Hale Senate, said the issue wasn't as simple as 'central office versus teachers.'

"They are under the threat of  loss of funding, which under the budgetary circumstances is intolerable. What else are they to do except come down heavy-handed?" Edelstein said. "The issue is do parents want their kids subjected to these invalid, unreliable, inequitable tests that are not going to do them any good and are only going to label every school in the state of Washington as a failing school."

Edelstein says he hasn't been asked to personally administer the test to juniors, and doesn't know who will be administering them.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.