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Dateline: Greeley, Colorado. Teacher Refuses to Give Abusive Test

Posted: 2014-04-02

Reminder: In 2001, Greeley, Colorado teacher Don Perl refused to administer the abusive state test.

Teacher stands alone, unbowed

By Theresa Meyers

The Denver Post

Feb. 19, 2001 - GREELEY - In a classroom at John Evans Junior High School last week, Don Perl's students sat down with their No. 2 pencils and took the Colorado Student Assessment Program test just like their peers in hundreds of schools around the state.

But Perl wasn't there. He wasn't even in the building.

Perl, who has taught social studies and Spanish at John Evans for 19 years, refused to administer the test to his students. As a result, he was suspended for six days without pay - the same six days his students will be given the test by another teacher.

"I know they are going to take the test," said Perl, a soft-spoken man with a bushy mustache and small stature. "All I can say is that it's wrong."

On Jan. 25, Perl announced he would refuse to administer the CSAP test. He is protesting the use of the test results to reward and punish schools, and said he believes the test itself is biased, especially against students whose first language is not English.

After months of reading about "highstakes" standardized testing, and even about how to boycott such a mandate, Perl said, he decided to take a stand.

"The test itself is innocuous, but the way it is used is very dangerous," Perl said. "Originally, I just wanted to raise people's consciousness, begin a dialogue. I guess I've done that."

Perl may have prompted discussions about the value of the assessments, but it appears he stands alone in his decision not to administer the test.

Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, said she's not heard of any other teacher taking a public stand against giving the CSAPs. That doesn't mean, Fallin said, that somewhere a teacher told his or her principal he didn't want to administer the test, and was simply given another assignment, quietly and without fanfare.

"We have 33,000 members, and obviously we've talked about this," she said. "There are people who have supported Don, who believe he's taken a principled position."

Perl said he didn't expect his colleagues to jump on his bandwagon. Teachers have to pick their own battles, he said.

"Everybody has to follow his or her own heart," Perl said. "This is the first time I've ever had to do something like this alone. It's scary."

Even though Perl's actions didn't start an avalanche of test boycotts, he said, his goal has been reached by getting more people to recognize the flaws in high-stakes testing.

"Teachers don't really know they can do something," Perl said. "Somebody had to stand up an say this is wrong. I really didn't have anything to lose."

Fallin said teachers are not generally opposed to standards and assessments. They are, however, opposed to test results being used to label schools or dole out rewards to teachers.

"Basically teachers have said standards and assessments have changed the way they teach and the way students learn, and that change has been positive," Fallin said. "What is done politically with this is the problem."

Perl agrees. He said he wouldn't oppose the test if it were used as one of many tools for teachers to assess the progress of their students. But the pressure the CSAPs put on teachers and students is not fair, he said.

"You know, parents send us their children, and don't we have to do the best we can?" Perl said. "This test is not the best we can." Perl said he wasn't quite prepared for the media storm that rained on him after his announcement. But, he said, the one thing he didn't want to happen was to have the story focus on him, rather than on his message.

"People will forget who Don Perl is, but maybe they won't forget the oppression of this test," he said.

Perl admits the boycott changed his life. Although he has a notebook filled with telephone messages, letters and cards supporting his announcement, there have also been hang-up calls at his home and negative letters in the local newspapers.

Perl said he will go back to school next week, "teach my classes and love my students - but it won't ever be quite the same." When asked whether he will administer the CSAP next year, Perl raised his index finger and traced a question mark in the air.

"In its present form there is no way I could give it," he said. "I'm just going to keep speaking out against it."

And "speak out" Don has done, forming the Coalition for Better Education, the organization that encourages parent opt out, raises money to erect wonderful opt-out billboards.

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