Student Saboteurs

May 10, 1989 1 min read

Some seniors at West High School in Torrance, Calif., came up with a particularly subversive strategy for signaling their agreement with the contention that schools are placing too much emphasis on standardized tests.

Instead of confining their frustration to articles in newspapers or education journals, they went straight to its source, deliberately flunking the California Assessment Program test.

“It appears as though 15 to 18 kids didn’t do their best as a kind of protest against taking the test,” the school’s principal, William Bawden, acknowledged last week.

Since the test results are reported on a schoolwide basis, rather than for individuals, “it was difficult for them to see an incentive to do their best,” he noted.

The students’ message got across. As a result of their actions, the school’s reading scores dropped from the 85th percentile in the state last year to the 51st percentile this year, while math scores dipped from the 95th percentile to the 71st percentile.

The scores are published in newspapers and are often used to rank schools. Although few parents have called to complain, Mr. Bawden said, the drop in scores has been “bad public relations.”

“West High is a rigorous academic high school,” he said. “We take pride in how well we do on the tests.”

The low scores also may damage the school’s chances to earn state or national recognition, suggested Susan Lange, a spokesman for the state education department.

Noting that only a handful of the 400 seniors who took the test performed poorly, Mr. Bawden denied that the students’ action was the result of an organized revolt. In fact, students have formed a committee to recommend ways to prevent such incidents from recurring, he said.--rr

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 1989 edition of Education Week as Student Saboteurs