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Teachers' Responses to Testing: The Atlanta-Seattle Connection

Ben Curran

In her post Teacher Cheating Fails Students, educator Jessica Cuthbertson mentions "opting out" as an option for teachers when it comes to standardized tests. It brings to mind the recent story of teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle who refused to administer a standardized test. At first glance, there may not seem to be similarities between the stories in Atlanta and Seattle. But I got to thinking, and several questions about both situations came to mind. Among them:

What if educators in Atlanta had chosen this option, rather than cheating?
Obviously, the story would have a much different ending. But it certainly would have eliminated the Seattle case as the only instance that most of the general public knows about in which teachers took a stand against testing. One story about a test boycott can be seen as extremism. Two stories, especially in a district as large as Atlanta's, would have garnered even more attention. This certainly could have changed the national dialogue about No Child Left Behind and standardized testing.

Is this really an option for all teachers?
It is hard to gauge if a majority of teachers would willingly put their jobs on the line in the name of taking a stand against testing. However, teachers across the country put their jobs on the line when they cheat on standardized tests. There are obviously teachers willing to take that risk. But think about yourself—hopefully you would never get involved in any sort of cheating scandal. But could you see yourself joining in on a testing boycott? It would take guts. When you're cheering on your fellow educators from a distance, it's easy to say "I'm so ready to do that." But if you had to decide tomorrow, would you do it? Could you stand up and refuse to give a test? How many of us could? Particularly knowing that we'd be risking not just our livelihoods but perhaps school funding and authorization. (My own case as a charter school teacher is particularly tricky in that my school's charter is tied to tests like the one the Seattle teachers refused to administer.)

Which will we see more of in the future: boycotts or cheating?
This is a tough one to figure out. I know I certainly would feel prouder of my profession if test boycotts multiplied in number. But I understand why educators would hesitate. Hopefully a better alternative to testing as it is now known will be found before either option becomes headline news on a regular basis.

I'm curious to know your own answers to these questions! Please share them by leaving a comment.

Ben Curran is a K-5 instructional coach at a charter school in Detroit and co-founder of Engaging Educators.

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