Thursday, May 22, 2008

PEN's Juanita Doyen & Seattle Teacher Carl Chew

I neglected to post this when Juanita first sent it out. It is pertinent today with Bronx teacher Doug Avella under attack because his kids boycotted their 22nd standardized test this year.



Date: April 20, 2008

Contact: Juanita Doyon, Director, Parent Empowerment Network, Spanaway, 253/973-1593

Carl Chew, Seattle Teacher, 206-265-1119 email

Carl Chew, a 6th grade science teacher at Nathan Eckstein Middle School in the Seattle School District, last week defied federal, state, and district regulations that require teachers to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to students.

I have let my administration know that I will no longer give the WASL to my students. I have done this because of the personal moral and ethical conviction that the WASL is harmful to students, teachers, schools, and families,” wrote Chew in an email to national supporters.

School District response to Mr. Chew’s refusal was immediate. After administrative attempts to dissuade his act of civil disobedience had failed, at the start of school on the first day of WASL testing, April 15, Mr. Chew was escorted from the school by the building principal and a district supervisor. Mr. Chew was told to report to the district Science Materials Center where he was put to work preparing student science kits while district administration and attorneys consulted on an appropriate penalty for what was labeled, “gross insubordination.”

Mr. Chew attended one hearing at Seattle School District Office, where he was accompanied by a Seattle Education Association representative. On Friday, April 18, Mr. Chew received a letter from Seattle School District Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson which began, "This letter is to inform you that I have determined that there is probable cause to suspend you from April 21, 2008 through May 2, 2008 without pay for your refusal and insubordination to your principal's written direction to administer the WASL at Eckstein Middle School."

During his weeklong struggle with the district over consequences, Mr. Chew was supported by allies throughout the state and nation. “Carl Chew is saying ‘No!’ to high stakes testing and a resounding ‘Yes!’ to student needs and to teacher professionalism,” stated nationally renowned education activist and author Susan Ohanian of Vermont.

“There are many more teachers who are ready to follow suit. They just need an example and leader,” states one Washington teacher.

Organizations and individual allies are now working to replace Mr. Chew’s lost wages. “Though a minor gesture in response to your so much larger gift, I plan to contribute to your salary for the two-weeks the schools aren't paying,” was the response of one colleague from Washington.

Parent Empowerment Network will be presenting Mr. Chew with a check for $200 to help alleviate his loss of wages and is encouraging organization members to also support Mr. Chew with words of encouragement and monetary contributions. The Vermont Society for the Study of Education and Colorado’s Coalition for Better Education have also pledged contributions.

The following is a full statement of Mr. Chew’s reasoning for his refusal to administer the WASL.

On April 15 I refused to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to my 6th grade students at a Seattle Public Schools middle school. I performed this single act of civil disobedience based on personal moral and ethical grounds, as well as professional duty. I believe that the WASL is destructive to our children, teachers, schools, and parents.

It is important for me to note that my disobedient action was not directed at any individual. I love being a teacher; my students are fantastic; my fellow teachers collaborate with and help me every day in numerous ways; and my school administration has always shown a willingness to listen to and support the teachers. I understand that my action has caused people pain, and I am truly sorry for that, but I could no longer stand idly by as something as wrong as the WASL is perpetrated on our children year after year.

Though my act of civil disobedience was individual, I do not stand alone in my strong beliefs. Any Internet search for high stakes testing will reveal highly regarded educators, distressed parents, and sensitive teachers with a wealth of thoughtful writing and case studies supporting my views.

The WASL is bad for kids.

To my mind the measure of successful childhood is that each child learns about who she or he is and how the world works, gains an assertive and confident self image, and feels safe, well fed, and happy. Schools, along with parents and communities, need to contribute wisely to this goal. Unfortunately, the WASL creates panic, insecurity, low self esteem, and sadness for our children.

o It is written in the language of White, middle and upper class students, leaving all others behind.

o It is presented to children in a secretive, cold, sterile, and inhumane fashion.

o There is no middle ground—children either pass or fail—which leaves them confused, guilty, and frustrated.

o Numerous questions on the test are unclear, misleading, or lacking in creativity.

o It tests a very narrow definition of what educators know children need to become well-rounded human beings.

o The WASL is given at a prescribed time regardless of a child’s emotional or physical health.

The WASL is bad for teachers.

For meager pay teachers are asked to work in extremely challenging situations, keep absurdly long hours, and, when it comes to the WASL, function in an atmosphere of fear.

o A majority of teachers loath the WASL but feel unable to speak out freely against it due to their fears of negative consequences for doing so.

o Because administrators are constantly pushing to meet federal guidelines for yearly score improvements, their relationships with teachers can become strained and unpleasant.

o Administrators and teachers suffer under the knowledge that if they do not achieve improvement goals (measured by WASL passage alone) they can be sent to retraining classes, lose their students to other schools, or have their “failing” school handed over to a private company.

o Before administering the WASL teachers mandatorily sign a “loyalty” oath promising they will not read any of the test questions.

o Teachers feel devalued by the amount of time most of them have to devote to test practice and proctoring—upwards of four weeks for actual testing and many more weeks for WASL prep in many cases.

o Teachers feel used and depressed when, half a year after the test is given, they are presented with dubious WASL results—amateurish and misleading Power Point charts and graphs telling them next to nothing about their students’ real knowledge and talents.

o Teachers’ relationships with parents are compromised because they cannot talk freely with them about opting their child out or other WASL concerns.

The WASL is bad for parents and families.

o Parents have been shut out of this costly process.

o Most of them are misled by official statements about what the purpose of the WASL is.

o Many of them do not realize that they have the right to opt their children out of testing with no consequences, though in practice schools have illegally put inappropriate pressure on parents and children who have opted out.

o Many of them do not realize that teachers are, in many cases, not allowed to discuss any reasons why they might want to opt their child out. (Teachers in California went to court to secure the right to inform parents of their right to opt their children out of that state’s testing.)

o Like children, parents suffer from the same feelings of guilt and unhappiness when their children fail.

o Parents are not informed that the test is biased, culturally insensitive and irrelevant, and not a real measure of anything.

o The WASL graduation requirement has kept thousands of families from knowing whether or not their students will be allowed to take part in graduation ceremonies and celebrations—the culminating reward for 13 years of public school attendance and achievement-- with friends and families.

The WASL is bad for schools.

Even in the best of times purse strings are rarely opened adequately to public education. Where a private school needs to charge $20,000-$30,000 to educate a child well, public schools are given a third or less of that for each student. Simply, schools are strapped for cash, many of them struggling each year to fund their needs with an ever shrinking pot of money.

o While schools are generally underfunded, Washington will spend a projected $56 million in 2009 to have a private corporation grade WASL tests. These tax dollars are needed right in our schools providing more teachers, smaller classes, tutors, and diverse educational experiences for our students.

o While the federal government requires that school districts use high stakes testing to qualify for federal dollars, tests are not fully funded by the federal government.

o WASL is one of the most difficult tests used to fulfill the federal requirements, with one of the highest failure rates.

o Instead of safe, exciting, and meaningful places for our children to spend half of their waking hours, schools have become WASL or test mills bent on churning out students who are trained to answer state-approved questions in a state-approved manner.

The WASL is just bad.

o Most, if not all, teachers will agree that assessment is vital. Wise teachers know that assessments which are also learning experiences for students and teachers are the best. The WASL categorically is not a learning experience.

o I believe that individual students are entitled to their own learning plans, tailored to their own needs, strengths, and interests. Teachers know it is definitely possible to do this in the context of a public school. The WASL categorically treats all children alike and requires that they each fit into the same precise mold, and state-mandated learning plans based on WASL scores fail to recognize individual strengths of students.

o Passing the WASL does not guarantee success in college, placement in a job, a living wage, or adequate health care.

o WASL will decrease the high school graduation rate. Thousands of students who have completed all other requirements and passed all required classes will be denied diplomas because of WASL failure.

o High-stakes testing has not proven beneficial to students, teachers, schools, or communities.

In the real lives of students, teachers, and parents the WASL is an ongoing disaster.

o When I was a teacher at Graham Hill Elementary in Seattle, a number of my students received their WASL scores to find that they had “failed”. When I looked at the notices being sent to their parents I saw that each student had come to within just a few points of actually passing and that their scores were well within the grey area, or “margin of error,” for the test. The “test scientists” aren’t sure whether the student passed or failed, yet the school tells the student he or she failed. These students cried when they saw the results.

o When I first started teaching, Graham Hill could afford Americorps tutors, numerous classroom aides, and had money for fieldtrip busses and ample supplies. By the time I stopped teaching there, Americorps was gone, there were no classroom aides except for parent volunteers, and everything else was in short supply.

o Teaching and testing during my last year at Graham Hill was challenging. I was on my own in a room with 29 students, 10% did not speak English, 50 % of them spoke another language at home, several of them were homeless, and many of them had severe emotional challenges due to parental pre-natal drug use, violence, and abuse.

o No one ever asked me or any of the teachers I know whether high stakes testing was a good idea. In fact, we teachers are made to jump through seemingly endless hoops to prove our worthiness to be professional, certificated educators. Public school teachers are responsible for the educational lives of over a million students in Washington State, yet, in the end, no one actually wants to listen to what teachers have to say about what is best for the students in our care

Parent Empowerment Network Update 4/27/08

(Disclaimer for the length of this post: WASL Season, Big News Week!)

It has been a great week for the High Stakes Resistance! A sincere and hearty “Thank You!!” to teacher Carl Chew, who took the courageous and moral step of refusing to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to his 6th grade students. The press release by PEN, sent to all of you and to media contacts one week ago, brought a flood of phone calls to Mr. Chew, and to me, by Monday morning. Through the week, I hope you read some of the well written accounts of Carl’s refusal, his reasons for taking the steps he did and the positive reaction of the public in general. Our cause of educational justice could not ask for a more humble, reasonable, articulate and credible spokesperson.

Please take time, if you haven’t already, to visit some of the following links to news accounts and the great political cartoon depiction of Carl’s stand, by David Horsey . Carl’s civil disobedience is a national and international story. Carl has interviewed with ABC News, National Public Radio and just about every major local television, radio, and newspaper outlet. And the interest continues in all areas of the country and world. Thank you, again, Carl, for being the right person at the right time and for being willing to set aside your own comforts and privacy to enter the “media circus” that has ensued.

The abbreviated list:

Front Page Seattle Times

Front Page Seattle PI

ABC News

AP Article- Tri-Cities Herald, Tacoma Tribune and others



Type “Carl Chew WASL” into Google for lots more!

In the aftermath of local media coverage, several local commentators found it appropriate to personally attack Carl and question his motives and his right to take an action of civil disobedience. Please find the time to let these commentators know they are off base.

Robert Jamieson, Seattle PI

Lynne Varner, Seattle Times

Peter Callaghan, The News Tribune (Tacoma)

Below, I have pasted Carl’s eloquent response to these personal attacks.

As for your PEN director, I am just returning home from Vermont and New York, where I spend a few days visiting with my good friend, activist and author Susan Ohanian. I had the privilege of visiting a meeting of the Vermont Society for the Study of Education on Friday. Susan and NY educator and activist Dr. Bill Cala (Type “Bill Cala” and “Military” into a Google search and you’ll find another act of courage) and I spent Saturday working with teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, and parents--and one member of the NY State Board of Regents-- at Suny Plattsburgh University. Subject: Resisting High Stakes Testing and NCLB.

Meanwhile… back in the state, WASL madness continues. Please check out one of many snafus of the season, front page, Olympian, . How many of these inconsistencies and outright unfair conditions exist during Washington’s high stakes testing? Our students’ diplomas should not hinge on a high stakes testing system so susceptible to local human error and OSPI folly!

The lack of seriousness with which state testing department head Joe Willhoft takes the future of our children can be read in the ABC news piece:

But Joe Willhoft, the state's assistant superintendent for assessment and student information, told that the WASL is a good tool for measuring student achievement.

Only half the questions on the test require a written response, and experts make sure they have no "unfair and biasing features," Willhoft said. "For example, we don't use the words 'tennis' or 'golf.'"

And just which experts let that Strawberry story slip through last year, Joe? Ever heard of “stereotype threat”? The same type of frustration and fear is experienced by the student who is given the wrong type of calculator for a math test and told he or she is not to ask questions. That student’s entire testing experience is in jeopardy, regardless of whether a question requires use of the calculator or not.

For those of you in the Spokane area, PEN board members Rachel DeBellis, Marysville, and Carol Carpenter, Yakima, and I will be attending a table at the WEA Representative Assembly, April 15-17. We would like to get together Thursday or Friday evening with anyone in the area who is interested in meeting. Please contact me, if you are interested or have an idea for a good place (restaurant with a meeting room, for instance) to hold a PEN get together. We will set the time, day and place and get it out to you next week.

While visiting Susan Ohanian, I picked up 20 more copies of her new book, When Childhood Collides with NCLB, which she was kind enough to autograph. PEN is offering these autographed copies as a premium to anyone who contributes $100 to PEN, either as a onetime contribution or through a pledge for a set monthly amount to equal $100.

If you believe that PEN is a valuable voice for students, parents, teachers and administrators of Washington State—and the nation— please help fund us by making a tax deductible contribution today. Activism has a monetary price tag, whether it’s the cost of websites, postage, travel, information booths at conferences, cell phones to provide 24 hour counseling access for parents opting out of the WASL and reporters wanting interviews—even while in Vermont— or the opportunity cost of no time to hold a position with an actual paycheck.

Please send contributions to:

Parent Empowerment Network

PO Box 494

Spanaway, WA 98387

Or visit to contribute through PayPal.

And finally…. A response to critics of Carl and his civil disobedience:

*Attention Students **

By Carl Chew

1) Remember there is no name calling in class. (Somehow my 6th graders can do this and still have stimulating and important conversations at the same time. When did adults forget the rules?)
2) Each of us has a right to be civilly disobedient whenever we feel inspired or forced to do so. Period.
3) I did not ask to be removed from my class. In fact I recommended to the principal that she simply reassign me during testing times. It was the school district who ultimately levied my punishment and by so doing brought this to the attention of the public.
4) My students did not know what I was doing. In no way was my class disrupted. I wrote on my blackboard, "I have something important to do and you probably will have a guest teacher. Treat them with respect. Do your best on the WASL." The students only learned of my act a week later when the media splashed it all over town.
5) I did not plan at the beginning of the year to refuse to give the WASL. I think it is a normal human reaction to want to forget painful events quickly. I would always tell myself, I won't do this again, but then forget about my discomfort. Then every spring I would wimp out and just get the WASL or other big test I had to administer over with. This year I simply decided not to be a woose (sp?). (I guess it's okay to call myself names.)
6) And yes, I have been to Olympia to protest the WASL. And I am a member of a number of organizations that are working to change or eliminate the WASL. Educators have been protesting the inequities of the WASL for years in all the appropriate places. Guess what? We can no more count on our leaders to change the WASL than we can convince them to follow the law and fully fund education in this state.
7) The Ebonic issue is interesting. It sure brings a lot of folks out into the open. Look, KVI's John Carlson will move heaven and earth to get someone he doesn't believe in to put their foot in their mouth. He asked me about my contention that the WASL was writ ten in White middle and upper class language. It is, read it. This fact alone puts a huge percentage of our children at risk of not passing. Imagine if your children had to take the test in Spanish. Would you feel that was fair? The kids in our schools speak in many different languages. Actually, I am a teacher who believes they must learn White middle and upper class English to navigate the world successfully, but I respect and value their home languages, too. To not do so would be unconscionable, immoral, and a slap at the faces of the students, their parents and communities. When I brought up Ebonic, Mr. Carlson immediately began hammering at me. He said something to the effect, you mean we should give the test in Ebonic--slang! His words, not mine. I clarified that I had used the word Ebonic because he asked for an example of another kind of English. And, I stand by my words. Next a caller said I sickened him. And then Carlson said, what would Obama say about this. He is darn good at attacking from every conceivable angle, whew! I think I did pretty well considering.
8) Okay, let's consider Ebonic or Black English or what every you want to call it. If you are brave enough, paste this link into your browser. It is a wonderful defense of my position by one of my heroes, James Baldwin. You know who he is, right? Good, you get full credit.

There have been a lot of cheap shots taken at my character and value as a teacher. Don't worry, I know who I am and what a great job I do with my students.

Enough said.

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