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Why I took a stand against WASL and why the state should abandon it

Posted: 2008-05-08

from the Seattle Times, May 8, 2008.

A remarkable teacher explains his so-called insubordination as "a small act of peaceful civil disobedience," voicing his concern that "so many have forgotten that in this country our moral duty is to act when we see wrongdoing."

On April 15, I was suspended without pay from my sixth-grade classroom because I refused to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to my students. My act was based on 28 clear arguments, most of which were left out of The Times article of April 22.

On April 23, an editorial column by Lynne Varner began with an attack on my character and value as a teacher.

If there were room here, I would include the multitude of messages of support I have received from the parents of my students. Not one failed to say their children are lucky to have me as their teacher and that their students have learned a powerful lesson about standing up for one's ideals.

Here are four important reasons the WASL should be abandoned immediately:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The WASL is bad for children. Because the WASL does not take into account language differences, learning styles, emotional well-being or physical health, it puts students at risk of failure through no fault of their own.

Margaret Mead said, "Remember, you are unique. Just like everyone else." A one-size-fits-all test does not and will not ever give us a clear picture of how our schools and teachers are doing.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The WASL is bad for teachers. It is used to satisfy the penalty-ridden and unfunded federal mandate of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and as such creates an atmosphere in public schools where teachers feel undervalued and threatened.

Teachers face abuse from administrators and even loss of their jobs if they speak out about the WASL, talk to parents about their right to opt their children out, or fail to teach to the test. Is it understandable that the average time a teacher stays in his or her profession is now less than five years?

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The WASL is bad for schools. The price tag of the WASL is astronomical. Currently the state auditor is looking into the total WASL cost (i.e., loss of funding) to our public education system in Washington. It is projected the grading, question development, diverted teaching time, printing and freight will exceed $113 million in 2008.

Should we also mention the sheer number of trees and resultant pollution required to publish and transport the more than 50 million pages of test, sample, and teacher-instruction booklets each year?

ΓΆ€ΒΆ The WASL and NCLB are the current failing models of school reform from a long line of losers. None of these reform strategies has ever succeeded in meeting the goals of better-preparing students for the world or closing the achievement gap. The statistics you read about their successes are cooked, inaccurate or insignificant.

In 2004, Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson quietly lowered the WASL scores required for high-school graduation; and in subsequent years, the number of students actually counted as members of the Class of 2008 changed at her whim ΓΆ€” lowered requirements and fewer students counted equaled higher pass rates.

The WASL has done nothing to decrease high-school dropout rates of more than 30 percent; in fact, it will increase them as approximately 16,000 students who stayed in school and passed their classes are denied diplomas this June. Today, without a diploma, they will be locked out of what could have been their futures ΓΆ€” an unethical "reform" if there ever were one.

My insubordination was a small act of peaceful civil disobedience. In retrospect, I am concerned that so many have forgotten that in this country our moral duty is to act when we see wrongdoing.

If you question my bravery, you are right. It took me too many years to get up the gumption to act, and in no way am I comparable to those heroes who stood up to lynchings, police dogs, fire hoses, or tanks. I am just a teacher who believes in my students and their right to be treated fairly and respectfully.

Carl Chew teaches sixth-grade science at Seattle's Eckstein Middle School. E-mail ctchew@earthlink.net

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