Individual Acts of Resistance

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - July 2008

Individual teachers, parents and students sometimes respond to high-stakes testing by putting themselves on the line. Recent examples include Washington science teacher Carl Chew's refusal to administer the WASL, North Carolina teacher Doug Ward's refusal to give his students that state test, Craig Haller's crusade to shield his disabled daughter Hannah from testing, students in the South Bronx who decided as a group they would not take a practice test, and a Florida assistant principal who resigned rather than comply with unethical test practices.

* Carl Chew, a 60-year-old sixth grade science teacher from Seattle, wrestled annually with his conscience about administering the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests to his students. "Each year I would give the WASL, and I would promise myself I would never do it again," he said. "I decided, 'I'm not going to wimp out this time.'" His refusal resulted in a nine-day unpaid suspension along with accolades from parents and teachers around the nation. Chew explained his reasons in a Seattle Post Intelligencer commentary: “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. …. 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.”

-- Carl Chew’s full explanation is here:

* North Carolina special education teacher Doug Ward could no longer bring himself to give the state’s alternative assessments to his students with severe disabilities. He was fired for his act of civil disobedience this spring. Ward, who had been teaching special needs students for three years, said he did not want to give a test to his students that was invalid and that they could not pass. "Someone needs to use a little common sense and say, 'I am just not going to do it,’" Ward said. Like Chew, Ward has received support from parents, colleagues and the community. Bob Williams, whose son Kyle was taught by Ward, said he admires his son’s teacher for what he did, and that the test doesn’t measure what Kyle has learned. "If you ask me as a parent is (Kyle) succeeding, you are darn right he is succeeding," Williams said. "When he started third grade, he couldn't walk down the hall. When he started school as a kindergartner, he was in a wheelchair. Now he can walk down the hall on his own. The test doesn't test that."

* Parent Craig Haller of Brookline, Mass., whose daughter Hannah is a high school freshman with severe disabilities, has launched an exhaustive effort to exempt his daughter from the state test and alternative assessment. State authorities failed to respond to his many requests that 15-year-old Hannah not be tested because she is unable to communicate and her individualized education plan does not align with the state curriculum frameworks. Rather than succumb to bureaucratic decisions, Haller contacted every local and state official he could find and alerted the news media. Like teacher Doug Ward and parent Bob Williams, he understood the assessments were pointless and would impose needless stress on his daughter. In a letter to state Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, Haller wrote, “She will experience heightened stress and anxiety at the time of the exam by not being physically able to respond to any part of the exam. She will experience loss of self esteem and self image by completely and totally failing an exam that is not designed to test or assess her knowledge but the mastery of the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.” Craig's website includes messages from authorities that illustrate obedience to authority and bureaucracy over the needs of this exceptional child.

* Virtually the entire 8th grade of a South Bronx, New York City, middle school boycotted a practice version of the state exam. Their teacher was disciplined for supposedly fomenting the rebellion. The 160 students from six classes at Intermediate School 318 handed in blank answer sheets rather than take a three-hour practice round of the state social studies exam. "We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year," said 13-year-old Tatiana Nelson. "They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."

The students also submitted a petition to school authorities saying they were tired of the “constant, excessive and stressful testing” that takes time from instruction. The students insisted the boycott was their idea, but administrators blamed Douglas Avella, the students’ probationary social studies teacher, and reassigned him to New York’s notorious “rubber room” for teachers accused of various kinds of misconduct. "Now they've taken away the teacher we love only a few weeks before our real state exam for social studies," Nelson said. "How does that help us?”

--Letters in support of Douglas Avella’s reinstatement can be sent to Chancellor Joel Klein at and copied to UFT President Randi Weingarten at

* St. Lucie County, Florida high school Assistant Principal Teri Pinney resigned from her position in June rather than comply with her principal’s request that she suspend students for sleeping or “Christmas Treeing” (filling in bubbles to make a pattern) during state testing and other requests she believes were unethical. Neither Pinney nor another assistant principal complied, but the principal suspended the students. Pinney said, “Two of the kids he suspended were good students, never got in trouble, and had excellent attendance. They were children of migrant Mexican workers. The parents pleaded with me and I gave in and lifted the suspensions. Of course, that opposition with my boss got me in trouble.” In a newspaper commentary, Pinney expressed her dismay at the role played by testing in schools today: “I believe that misuse or overuse of standardized testing is creating a maddening race for everybody to that elusive finishing line.” Pinney is now working with the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform (FCAR) to build support for overhauling the state’s controversial testing system.

--Teri Pinney’s full commentary is here: