Washington Teacher Practices Civil Disobedience

Carl Chew, a Seattle science teacher, has been placed on two week suspension without pay for refusing to give his sixth-graders the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). Chew decided to practice civil disobedience by refusing to administer a test he considers harmful to students, teachers, schools and families.

Chew was interviewed by Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times.

“I did it because I think it’s bad for kids,” he said. He said he knew he would face consequences, and might even be fired. “When you do an act of civil disobedience, you gracefully accept what happens to you,” he said.

Chew had told the administrators at the middle school where he taught that he would not give the exam. He said they tried to talk him out of it. He then was suspended without pay from Monday through May 2, the day WASL testing ends.

“He failed to follow his duties as teacher,” said Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Patti Spencer. The district, she said, understands there are debates over standardized tests such as the WASL, but it expects teachers to fulfill all their responsibilities, which include giving state-mandated exams.

The WASL is given each year to students in grades 3-8 and Grade 10, and covers reading, writing, math and science. It is used to determine whether Washington schools are meeting the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And starting this year, students must have passed reading and writing on the 10th-grade exam to graduate from high school

Chew may be the first teacher in Washington state to refuse to give the test. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Education Association (WEA), the state’s largest teachers union, said they didn’t know of any similar cases.

Juanita Doyon, director of the Parent Empowerment Network, an anti-WASL group, says she’s heard of only one teacher in the nation who has refused to administer a high-stakes test. That teacher works in Colorado. Chew, she said, “has taken a brave stand.

Chew issued a two-page, single-spaced statement listing all of his concerns about the WASL. It includes his contention that many questions on the test are unclear, notes its costs, and says teachers get little information about how to help students improve. The letter also says the WASL focuses too much attention on just a few subjects.

“I think it’s good for students to have basic skills in reading, writing and math,” he said. “But also to have good skills in P.E. and art and music and public speaking.” The WASL, he said, needs to be scrapped and replaced with a “gentler, kinder way of finding out what our students know and helping teachers educate them better.”

Chew stated that this was his first act of civil disobedience. Washington’s “Parent Empowerment Network” encouraged supporters to sent money to Chew to replace his lost wages, but Chew says he wont accept the money and requests that it goes, instead, to local groups that oppose high-stakes standardized testing

Chew said he didn’t tell his students about his plans.

“I simply let them know that I had something important to do during the WASL time, and expected them to treat the guest teacher with respect,” he said. “And I told them to do well on the WASL.”

And next year?

“I have let them know I’m never going to give the WASL again,” Chew said. At the same time, he added, “next year is a long way off.” In the meantime, he said, he plans to think about what might be a “win-win situation.”

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