Teaching Profession

Teachers Lauded for Refusing to Give Tests

By Christina A. Samuels — March 10, 2009 1 min read

I’m sure you may have heard about two teachers in Seattle who were suspended for 10 days without pay for failing to give tests to their students with severe cognitive disabilities.

Lenora Stahl and Juli Griffith each were suspended for 10 days without pay for not following through with training and reports required for the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS), a version of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning intended for students with special needs. "I understand that you are taking this position as a matter of principle," says a March 2 letter to the teachers from Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. But because giving the test is a state requirement, "you as a member of our staff have a responsibility to do so."

Full story here.

The teachers say they were following the verbal and written request of the parents, who didn’t want their children to go through the testing because the tests are too hard and stressful.

I know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows for different types of tests to be given to students with severe cognitive disabilities, so I started poking into the requirements of the test that these students would have been given, the Washington Alternate Assessment System. The state has a brochure (pdf) available for parents to learn more about the WAAS.

On paper, it seems like these parents’ concerns could have been eased; the WAAS is supposed to be “meaningful to the individual student.” But the teachers say that it’s still grade-level based and thus inappropriate. I find it interesting that the story noted that the children had been tested before and received “zeroes;" I didn’t know that it was possible to receive zeroes in a portfolio-based assessment, like the one used in Washington.

This isn’t the first time teachers have expressed concerns about the alternate assessments used for student with severe disabilities. The general issues are that they are time-consuming and don’t measure what a student can realistically achieve. Resources for educators can be found at the federally-funded National Alternate Assessment Center, which hosts a repository of reports and Powerpoint presentations on the topic.

In the meantime, I’m interested in what readers think. Did these teachers do the right thing?

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.