Seattle Teacher Says Tests Kill Learning

When it's time each spring for Carl Chew to give his Seattle sixth-graders the federally required standardized tests, he can feel their anxiety.

They complain about stomachaches, they get sick and some of them just start to cry. Even the straight-A students.

For both teachers and young children, the annual Washington Assessment of Student Learning test creates an atmosphere "rife with fear," the science teacher at Nathan Eckstein Middle School told

"The WASL is presented in a secretive, cold and inhuman fashion," he said. "The teacher is not allowed to read the questions, or help, and the kids have to maintain silence for hours and hours. They are only allowed a bathroom break once in a while."

But after agonizing about the detrimental effects of standardized testing for several years, Chew did something about it last week. He refused to administer the test, which is the key measure of academic progress under the federally mandated No Child Left Behind law.

The WASL is just one of numerous high-stakes tests that now dominate the curricula of elementary schools across the country. A growing number of teacher and parents are rejecting these kind of tests, which have increased in frequency and gravitas after No Child Left Behind.

They rebel at their own peril, however. Chew was suspended for nine days without pay by his principal. But today -- sitting at home while a substitute teacher takes his place -- he is a rock star among parents and teachers who have blamed the testing for stamping out the love of learning in children.

Harmful to Students

"I have let my administration know that I will no longer give the WASL to my students," Chew wrote in an e-mail to national supporters. "I have done this because of the personal moral and ethical conviction that the WASL is harmful to students, teachers, schools and families."

The e-mail was circulated by Mothers Against the WASL, a group of activist parents who oppose the test. Chew received hundreds of letters from as far away as Hawaii and Canada, some of them from students.

"They have all said 'thank you, Mr. Chew, for standing up against WASL,'" he said.

One e-mail came from Beth Hovee of Vancouver, Wash., whose 8-year-old granddaughter Zoe fears reading because of a battery of repetitive speed tests.

"Drill and kill is the motto of the WASL," Hovee said. "She's a smart kid, but the pressure tests and teaching techniques make her hate school."

Zoe took her first WASL this week. "It gets really quiet in the room and the door is closed," she told "When you get stuck on a question, the teacher can't help. You don't know what to do and you have to figure it out."

Her 10-year-old brother Jonah -- a stellar student -- was traumatized by the WASL last year.

"They have this big rule about not going to the bathroom," his mother, Andrea Logue, said. "In the middle of testing he asks to go and the teacher said she was sorry, but we he couldn't leave. Much to his mortification, he wet his pants."

Incidents like these reassure Chew that his protest is important, but Seattle Public School spokesman David Tucker defended the suspension.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...