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Seattle Educators Call For A Two-Year Moratorium On Standardized Testing

Gabriel Spitzer
File photo: Teachers and their backers rallied outside district headquarters before a school board meeting in January 2013.

A previous version of this story was inadvertently published early Wednesday. The text of that story, which contained a factual error, has been deleted. That story incorrectly said students at Denny International Middle School had been pulled out of social studies class for math tutoring. This story reflects the correction and adds comments from Denny's principal.

Representatives in the Seattle teachers’ union have voted to call for a two-year moratorium on standardized tests, building on a history in Seattle of protesting over this issue.

A 2013 protest at Garfield High School got national attention when teachers boycotted the Measures of Academic Progress test. The protest spread to other schools. The district decided to make the test optional at the high school level.

The MAP test is still used for kindergarten through second grade in Seattle, but now the Smarter Balanced Assessment is used starting in third grade. There’s a lot riding on these scores, and teachers say it still creates too much pressure on kids.

Jeff Treistman is a librarian at Denny International Middle School who wrote the resolution calling for a moratorium on standardized assessments. It was passed by an assembly of Seattle Education Association representatives from each building.

The moratorium says the tests create a sense of worthlessness in kids who get low scores and that students are being subjected to too much test preparation. Treistman said he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from other educators.

“As I’ve been talking with other teachers about this, I haven’t had a single teacher say, `Wow, why would you want to do that?’” he said. “Everybody says, `Yeah and last week, I had three kids who had panic attacks in my classroom. It was horrible.’”

Tracy Gill, who teaches sixth grade social studies at Denny, said she’s concerned that the assessments are flawed and ask questions that are not relatable to students of color or who are living in poverty, leading to lower test scores for them compared with their white peers.

She said at her school, kids who are behind in math get steered into taking a second math class as one of their two electives. And she said some kids lose instruction time in their other elective as well.

“The math department was sending out little call slips for kids, and so not only are they not getting their electives, but now they’re getting pulled out of other classes to go practice math yet again to get ready for the testing,” Gill said. “To me, that’s an equity issue, where in mostly white schools you’re not going to see kids missing out on opportunities like that, but where kids of color are, they’re missing out.”

A "call slip" used to have a student go to math tutoring at Denny

Denny Middle School Principal Jeff Clark said not many kids were pulled out for extra math help and it was only for about two weeks.

He said electives such as art or orchestra are very important at Denny and unlike many other middle schools, Denny offers seven periods instead of six. Denny also offers a free after-school program paid for by Seattle’s Families and Education Levy. It offers classes such as underwater robotics or Latino dance club along with extra academic help.

That allows students to have opportunities for languages, technology or music and get the academics they need, he said.

“We’re very committed to making sure that every child as they come through Denny is able to achieve grade-level skills and concepts and we can provide that extra time during the school day, if needed, and be able to have kids in choir and language and all of those other things,” Clark said.

A spokeswoman for Seattle Public Schools said the district recognizes concerns around testing.

She said district officials are working with the Seattle Education Association to make sure the assessment system is thoughtful and they support using multiple ways to evaluate students’ academic progress. Testing is required by state and federal law.