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Published in Print: May 15, 2002, as Teacher Probed for Role In Anti-Testing Activity

Teacher Probed for Role In Anti-Testing Activity

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A San Jose, Calif., teacher has been placed on administrative leave while her district investigates her role in anti-testing activities, an example of the fine line teachers and school administrators who oppose assessment policies must walk in performing their official duties.

Stacey Miller was put on leave with pay last month from J.W. Fair Junior High School in the heart of Silicon Valley while the district conducts its probe into allegations that she was encouraging her students to opt out of the state's testing program.

The decision marks one of the first disciplinary actions against a school employee for protesting state testing policies and pits teachers' free-speech rights against state laws that govern state policies.

In California, state rules allow teachers and other school officials to inform parents of their option to remove students from the testing program, but they prohibit them from advocating that they do so. The tests cover grades 2 through 11. Although school officials would not describe the specific actions of Ms. Miller that they were looking into, they did say they were investigating whether the teacher went beyond informing parents of their rights and urged that they withhold children from testing.

Ms. Miller is on paid administrative leave during the investigation, said Larry Aceves, the superintendent of the 10,000-student Franklin-McKinley school district in east San Jose.

Teachers who oppose the state tests are being careful about what they say and do in organizing activities against them, according to Susan Sandler, the director of the educational justice program for Justice Matters, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that opposes the state tests. "The way they have to inform parents about their rights has to be very carefully worded," she said.

Under a Microscope

Anti-testing groups have been busy throughout the country as the amount of testing has risen in recent years, and the stakes attached to them have become more punitive. While organized resistance has been flourishing in many places—most prominently Massachusetts— the protests haven't forced states into backtracking on their testing policies. ("Protests Over State Testing Widespread," May 16, 2001.)

Students and parents often are at the forefront of the protests, but teachers and administrators sometimes help them, putting their own conduct under the microscope.

Last year, New York state's commissioner of education admonished school leaders in Scarsdale for failing to enforce state attendance laws on testing dates and for failing to inform parents of the tests' purposes. School officials responded by saying that some teachers criticized the exams, but didn't do anything to organize or support a boycott.

In the Golden State, the California Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education, known as CALCARE, is actively recruiting parents to pull their children out of the California testing program.

On its Web site, CALCARE suggests several actions teachers can take, such as circulating fliers or speaking out at school board or PTA meetings. But it suggests that making public statements can be risky for teachers and subject them to punishment.

Superintendent Aceves did not say what sparked the inquiry into Ms. Miller's actions. Neither she nor her lawyer returned messages left for them last week.

But the superintendent did say that the probe revolved around whether the teacher recruited parents to sign waivers withdrawing their children from the testing program.

"Parents and students may not be solicited. That's what's being investigated," Mr. Aceves said. "If it crosses over into soliciting, then, as superintendent, I have to make sure the law is followed."

Bonuses Jeopardized?

Last year, 98 percent of students at Fair Junior High took the California Standardized Testing and Reporting Program exams.

Under California rules, if more than 10 percent of a school's student population does not take the tests, it cannot qualify for bonuses in the state's Academic Performance Index. In 2001, 72 of the 7,400 schools eligible for bonuses had more than 10 percent of students withheld from testing at their parents' request.

In 2001, none of the K-8 Franklin-McKinley district's 12 elementary and two junior high schools had more than 5 percent of its enrollment opting out.

Mr. Aceves said he wasn't worried that an anti- testing campaign would jeopardize bonuses that the district's schools might otherwise receive. "This clearly is an issue of following the education code," he said.

Vol. 21, Issue 36, Page 3

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