The number of high-school juniors in Seattle declining to take a new state test keeps growing, with 80 percent or more at five high schools exercising their right to “opt out.”
The number of high-school juniors in Seattle refusing to take state exams continues to grow, with reports of very high opt-out rates in four more schools.
Last week, district officials reported that not a single junior took the tests at Nathan Hale High in North Seattle. On Tuesday, they said 95 percent of juniors at Garfield High and 80 percent at Roosevelt and Ingraham high schools also have refused to take the exams, called Smarter Balanced, which are replacing Washington’s old statewide exams.
On Wednesday, the district said about 95 percent of juniors at Ballard High School refused to take the tests.
District officials initially thought about half the students at some of these schools would opt out, but the numbers clearly are much higher than that, with many students protesting what they see as unnecessary testing.
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“What really convinced me was, it’s not a graduation requirement,” said Kevin Nguyen, a junior at Garfield and president of his class of about 400 juniors. “At this time of the year, juniors especially don’t have that much time to just spend on stuff that doesn’t go toward graduation.”
Maddy Kennard, another Garfield junior and student-body treasurer, said she simply didn’t want to miss class.
She’s also concerned that most of the students who take the test this year may do poorly. Based on results from pilot tests across 21 states, between 60 and 70 percent of students are expected to fail.
“To have to take a state-mandated test that you’ll probably not even pass — that’s not what you want to do,” she said.
The boycotts appear to be limited just to juniors, who don’t need to pass any part of the Smarter Balanced tests to graduate from high school.
And the protests in Washington state don’t appear to extend beyond Seattle. Bellevue School District, for example, has received just six refusal forms across the district of about 19,000 students.
But similar tests have sparked protests elsewhere — in Oregon, New York and New Mexico, among other states.
In Seattle, the protests continue to grow despite warnings that they could put the state’s federal funding at risk.
In a statement Friday, state schools chief Randy Dorn reiterated his view that if fewer than 95 percent of Washington students take the state tests, the U.S. Department of Education could withhold education funding under the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates annual testing.
“The decision to refuse testing doesn’t just affect the individual student,” Dorn said. “It affects students across the state.”
At Garfield — the site of a 2013 testing boycott led by teachers that gained national attention — student-government leaders visited classrooms to explain that the test was not required for graduation for juniors, and that students could fill out a refusal form at the school counseling office at any time.
They did not focus on sophomores, Nguyen said, because those students are taking the reading portion of the tests as a graduation requirement.
In 2013, the boycott centered on a district-required test, not a state one.
Nguyen said some members of Garfield’s student government talked with students organizing similar efforts at Roosevelt, Ingraham and Nathan Hale but didn’t plan any coordinated events between the schools.
Earlier this year, teachers at Nathan Hale High initially decided to boycott the exams but backed down under pressure from district administration and after warnings from Dorn.
To date, the district has been monitoring only four schools where it had heard opt-outs might be high, a district spokeswoman said. Complete numbers won’t be available until the testing window closes.
Smarter Balanced testing in Washington must be finished by June 15.