SPS Makes Us All Hypocrites

By Jeff Treistman, School Librarian

Starting this week Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will be subjecting the entire school district to painful, ritualized, and invalid high stakes testing. It will be the first of two sessions this year. The rationale for the Fall session is that we need to address “learning loss.” We have gone two years without any high stakes testing. The only people in Seattle who seem to miss it are the technocrats at the John Stanford Center, who won’t be proctoring any of the tests since they never go into the classroom. Yet, they always seem to think they know what is best. And they really need the data to keep doing what they have been doing, it’s almost like job security for them.

SPS leadership makes us all hypocrites when proclaiming that we are becoming an antiracist district while forcing us to continue to utilize tools of oppression. The most insidious of these tools is one that specifically targets black students. Current MacArthur genius award grantee, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, wrote this article in 2016 and it is just as true today as it was five years ago. In it he states “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies.” And now, as we begin an unprecedented testing season (we’ve never done this type of testing so early in the school year before), the district is asking us to do something that is the opposite of antiracism. 

screenshot of a recent email sent by SPS to families

I am not alone in my outrage but I find myself in a unique position as one of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) members of the SPS/SEA assessment committee that was charged with making this year’s testing plan. When informed that the WA state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) was requiring that schools test twice this year, SEA recommended against the plan. Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, applied for a waiver that would have had WA state test a sample of students around the state instead of subjecting every student in the state to the test, but it was rejected by the US Department of Education. Reykdal has stated publicly, and to me in private, that there will be no sanctions for any school or district that does not meet the target of testing 95% of the students. He would be obliged to send a reprimanding letter but the letter would only say that the target was not met, do better next time. When the SEA members of the assessment committee objected to the fall testing, the SPS members of the committee responded along the lines of “Yes, we hear you,” but they were not willing to stand with us for our battered educational community that was, and still is, reeling with the pandemic. The SEA members had no other choice but to go along. This wasn’t going along to get along, there was no choice.

Ironically, there was an all district professional development session given at the beginning of the school year by the author of Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad. She gave an excellent, inspiring speech that laid out “an equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy,” which is the subtitle of her book. This week every SPS teacher received their own copy of the book that was paid for by SPS. On page 105 there is this subheading, High-stakes Tests and Deficit Views. The three page discussion concludes with, “These tests are used to further marginalize students who have not been served well by school systems. It’s essential that all educators understand the bias and racism prevalent throughout American history so that they can interrupt it each day.”

Immediately upon receiving the book and finding that passage I wrote an email to interim Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones that included this:

I’m sure you know what NEA, WEA and SEA think about these tests. I think you also know that teachers are trying to undo racism in Seattle Public Schools and change the culture of our schools. If we are serious about changing the culture, we need to change the rituals of the culture and the best place to start would be with these tests. We need to get rid of them. We need to resist and interrupt. You have the power to make a big change. All I can do is to encourage parents to opt out. I wish it were you telling parents to opt out. 

But alas, as I was writing my email to Dr. Jones, SPS was sending the following misleading communication to SPS families. Students are not required to take these tests. Parents have a legal right to opt their students out of all standardized tests

screenshot of SPS School Beat Newsletter taken by SPS parent, Shawna Murphy

“It worries me when I see misleading and false information going out through School Beat around testing. Every family has the right to opt their student out of standardized testing, and I hope more will exercise that right.”

Shawna Murphy, SPS Parent

All members of our educational community have a stake in undoing racism. When we talk about tools of oppression and systemic racism, these tests are what we are talking about, they play a huge role in the machinery of the system that locks racism in place. I encourage everyone reading this to write their own letter to Dr. Jones who claims to want to flatten the hierarchy. Encourage him to be bold, to be part of the resistance and to interrupt racism. Tell him to ask students and their families to opt out. That would be antiracist.

Sign the petition to send an email asking Dr. Jones to end testing in SPS. All emails will be sent to Dr. Jones and the SPS board of directors.

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