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Garfield High School.  (Photo: Joe Wolf/flickr/cc)

Seattle’s Garfield High School Opt Out Movement Scores Huge Victory over “Smarter Balanced” Common Core Testing!

Jesse Hagopian

What will happen at Garfield High School with Common Core testing?

I have been asked this question by people all over the country as they learned that this would be the first year that Common Core testing would come to Washington State. All year, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School have debated whether to administer the new Common Core test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). Garfield High School became a leader in the movement for authentic assessment in 2013 when the staff voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, and were joined by the parents and students in a mass opt out campaign. After the tested subject teachers were threatened with a ten day suspension without pay for refusing to administer the MAP, the superintendent finally gave in at the end of the school year and announced that the test would no longer be mandatory at the high school level. Many took inspiration from the MAP test boycott, and during the ensuing months an “education spring” was born as students, parents, and teacher’s refused high-stakes testing across the country. This ongoing education spring has now produced the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history, highlighted by the 60,000 students who were opted out in New York State alone.

Many teachers at Garfield knew that as a faculty that helped ignite the struggle for authentic assessment, it was important to send a clear message against the new SBA testing that in many ways is worse that the MAP test. Then Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School Senate—the governing body of the school comprised of educators, administrators, parents, and students—announced that the school was going to refuse to administer the SBA test. This was a huge inspiration for our staff, but then the Superintendent of the Seattle Schools issued public statement that threatened to suspend teachers who gave notice that they would refuse to administer a standardized tests—and terminate the teaching licenses of any teacher who refused to administer a test without giving notice. This threat gave Garfield’s staff pause—and yet some of my courageous colleagues continued to express that they would join the “Teachers of Conscious” movement.

Then an amazing thing happened. Parents began organizing a mass opt out campaign. The Garfield PTSA invited Dr. Wayne Au, author of “Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality,” to explain the problems with the SBA. We soon realized that the students who were being asked to take the 11th grade SBA are the very same class whose families help lead the boycott of the MAP test when the students were in 9th grade back in 2013!

I am excited to announce that the parent opt out campaign at Garfield High School has resulted in 221 students already opting out of the 11th grade SBA with two weeks to go before the test is supposed to be administered!

In fact, so many students have opted out of the Common Core tests that the decision whether to administer the test or not was taken away from Garfield educators; with so many opt outs, the majority students in every class wouldn’t be taking the exam and therefore it is against the testing rules to have them in the computer lab while the test is being administered.

What this means is that the teachers are no longer being asked to administer the exam and instead the school administration will have to pull the individual students out who will be taking the test and take them to the computer lab.

The fact that we have scored this resounding victory against Common Core testing, before the mass flunking of our students with an invalid test, is a wonderful thing. And it isn’t only Garfield and Nathan Hale—hundreds of students have opted out of the SBA test at Ingraham High School, and Roosevelt High School. In fact, with dozens of schools across Seattle with parents reporting opt outs, the city is now experiencing the most opt outs in its history.

These tests are designed to obscure the things that matter most—such as collaboration towards a common goal. Seattle’s educational leaders at schools across Seattle are teaching an immeasurable lesson by demonstrating the power of collective action against injustice.


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Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington and director of  Black Education Matters. He is the editor and contributing author to the book, "More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing" (Haymarket Books, 2014) and co-editor of "Teaching for Black Lives." Currently, Hagopian serves as a national surrogate for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Follow Jesse on his blog at iamaneducator.com.

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