Test Resistance Success in Santa Monica, California

By Abby Arnold
The Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH), a public K-8 school, will not receive an API score this year as a result of a boycott of the SAT 9.  While 154 students were qualified to take the test (grades K and 1 are not included), 97 students were exempted from testing by parent request.  Only 57 students participated in testing.
The widespread rejection of testing at SMASH followed a year of parent education and organizing.  A Parent Alternative Education Committee met monthly to learn about educational theory, and to research standardized testing.  Parents shared what they had learned at a school-wide community forum on testing, and parent leaders encouraged other parents to write letters exempting their children from the test.

Parents and students cited a variety of reasons for not participating in the SAT 9 this year.  Parent Abby Arnold, who had allowed her son Kevin to choose whether or not to take the test in previous years, said that she refused to let her son participate in a test which “only reveals the income and education of the parents.   The main use of the SAT 9 is by realtors, who label ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neighborhoods based on test scores,” said Arnold.

Student Hannah Bellini cited the stress of taking the test, and her objection to “making people feel that they are better or worse than each other.” 

Parent Jonathan Penzner objected to the way testing distracts from the school’s educational program.  “At SMASH, our children have a cooperative, community-based learning experience,” he said.  “Standardized testing is individualized and competitive, which are values that are inconsistent with our school philosophy.”

David Steele, who became the parent expert on the API system, which ranks and rewards California schools, discovered that no API score would be generated if less than 100 students participated in the SAT 9 test, or if more than 15% of the eligible students were exempted from testing.  Parents and students leafleted before school for the week preceding the testing, asking parents to write exemption letters to the school. 

Those students who did not participate in the testing had extensive academic programming during testing periods.  Students wrote letters to the Los Angeles Times explaining why they were not being tested.  They calculated the percentage of students who took and did not take the test, and they discussed the consequences of the boycott, which will mean that the school will not qualify for a small “reward” grant.  There is also the possibility that the school board, or the superintendent of schools, will take action against the school.  Substitute teachers administered the test to those who took it. 

“I’m proud that my son is learning to take a stand for justice, and to think about accepting whatever consequences there may be from that action,” said Arnold.  “While this isn’t the equivalent of the Vietnam War, it is certainly ground zero for today’s ten year olds.”

For more information, contact abby.arnold@verizon.net


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