LIANE HANSEN, host:
Now, to another pressing education issue - standardized testing. School students across the country have been hunching over No. 2 pencils and rubbing their foreheads. The federal No Child Left Behind Act strongly emphasizes statewide assessments. Many teachers complain about having to teach test-taking skills instead of content.
Well, one Seattle teacher just won't do it. From member station KPLU, Chana Joffe Walt has more.
CHANA JOFFE WALT: On a regular day, Mr. Chew would be heading home, around 4:00, after a long day of teaching. Instead, here he is in his flip-flops and some ancient jeans, puttering around in his garden.
Mr. CARL CHEW (Teacher): The first giant sunflower in here. Here we go.
WALT: And then practicing his accordion some.
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WALT: This is basically Carl Chew's timeout in the corner, or the teacher's equivalent of that, which I got to say seems like a lot more fun.
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WALT: Chew is on an unpaid suspension for refusing to give his sixth grade students the state-mandated Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or the WASL. The WASL - there is so much to say about this contentious test. Let me just summarize by saying No Child Left Behind transformed it.
The WASL used to be given every few years; now students take it every year - third through eighth grade, and at least once in high school. Kids in special ed now have to take it, and this year for the first time, high school seniors will need to pass portions of the WASL to graduate. That has many teachers complaining they have to spend weeks special test-taking lessons. Carl Chew says instead of teaching a well-rounded curriculum, we have to force kids into an educational box.
Mr. CHEW: If we are training students for a set of specific skills and that's all we spend our time on, we are casting them into a dead end.
WALT: Chew has always hated the WASL, but when spring comes around he usually just sucks it up and hands out the test.
Mr. CHEW: But this last year I was going up to pick up my test booklets and I thought to myself, every year you say to yourself you're not going to do this and every year you do. When are you ever going to not to do it? And I just thought, I'm not going to do it.
WALT: As punishment, Chew says the district first sent him to another building to prep science kids for a couple of days, then suspended him. Seattle Public Schools spokesman David Tucker.
Mr. DAVID TUCKER (Spokesman, Seattle Public Schools): It's our expectations that teachers are going to administer any and all tests that they're required to. And these are tests, as I mentioned, that are state mandated or federally mandated and are a strong assessment tool of many assessment tools to see how our students are progressing in their academic journey.
WALT: The idea of the statewide tests is they can serve as an independent measure of how kids and schools are progressing. Still, a number of teachers and parents say the tests are too narrowly focused on particular skills, ignoring students' individual strengths and learning styles.
To these anti-testing folks, Carl Chew, a teacher for the cause, is a rock star. Here's Juanita Doyon with the anti-WASL Parent Empowerment Network.
Ms. JUANITA DOYON (Parent Empowerment Network): Because of his humble demeanor, because of his stand that the test is harmful to students, he's really becoming a folk hero. People have reacted very positively.
WALT: People sure are reacting to Chew, but it's not all positive. The PTA co-president at Chew's school, Peter Aberg(ph), says many people believe in the accountability called for in No Child Left Behind, and he questions Chew speaking on behalf of everyone.
Mr. PETER ABERG (Co-President, PTA): I think there are a million opinions about the WASL. And I would be hard pressed to characterize a general sentiment about the WASL.
WALT: So, I ask Carl Chew, when it comes to the WASL, why is this your call? Why do you know better than the federal government, state education leaders?
Mr. CHEW: Well, I'm trained. Teachers are the ones who have been trained to work with children and educate them.
WALT: Chew is not alone in his concerns about state-mandated tests, but he's pretty out there when it comes to what he calls his civil disobedience. The National Education Association says it knows of only one other case where a teacher has refused to take part in standardized tests. Carl Chew heads back to school tomorrow after all the students have turned in their tests.
For NPR News, I'm Chana Joffe Walt in Seattle.
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