Juniors at Bellingham’s three high schools plan to boycott state test

A growing number of high school juniors in Bellingham plan to boycott a state test next week they say is unnecessary and harmful to their learning.

More than 50 percent of Sehome High School’s 262 juniors expected to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment on Monday, May 18, instead have filled out paperwork refusing to take the test, according to the school. Some students at Bellingham and Squalicum high schools plan to boycott the test as well, though the schools did not have an estimate Monday of how many would refuse the test.

The number of Sehome students joining the boycott likely will continue to climb by the time Bellingham School District begins administering the English and language arts portion of the test on Monday, May 18, said Indigo Olson, a Sehome junior who helped organize the boycott.

The Smarter Balanced test, which is aligned with Common Core standards adopted by the state, replaces Washington’s previous statewide exams. High school juniors in the Bellingham School District were scheduled take the first portion of the test May 18-22, and the math portion May 26 - June 3. The tests will not be required for graduation until 2019.

Sehome administrators asked students to fill out a form signed by their parents if they chose to refuse the test.

Olson said a boycott at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle — in which no junior showed up to take the test — prompted her and other Bellingham students to join the state and national protest of standardized tests. She said word quickly spread on social media among 11th-graders.

She added that there are simply too many tests this time of year. The Smarter Balanced tests come one week after Advanced Placement tests and just before final exams.

“It’s kind of just this solid brick of testing, and I think it’s too much for a lot of people,” Olson said.

Stella Christoforou, another Sehome junior, said the time taken for the test could be better spent in the classroom.

“Adding that much testing, especially since it won’t affect graduation requirements or anything, is unnecessary.”

The Bellingham School District has taken a neutral position on the student protest.

“It’s kind of democracy in action, from my point of view,” said Deputy Superintendent Mike Copland.

For the district, the test is a chance to measure the progress of students and better evaluate its teaching practices, Copland said. He said the district and its teachers have informed the students about the potential benefits, such as the chance for colleges to use students’ high test scores for placement into credit-bearing courses.

But he said the Smarter Balanced test is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to a student’s education, and there are “more important assessments” for students.

“I think kids are questioning the relevance of the test, and I think a lot of us in the business question the relevance of the test,” Copland said.

Randy Dorn, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a news release that there are consequences for test refusals. If less than 95 percent of students in the state take the test, it could affect federal funding.

“No test is perfect. But the Smarter Balanced tests, with their emphasis on real-world skills, are better than any standardized test our state has administered before,” Dorn said in a statement. “If students don’t test, it’s more difficult to identify what skills they lack and how best to help them.”

The state plans to use the results of this year’s test to set a required score for graduation in the future.

Olson said the students participating believe the test doesn’t accurately measure student’s capabilities. She hopes Bellingham students will add to the voice of students across the nation who oppose standardized tests.

“We want to help them so we can achieve national change so we maybe don’t have to take 14-hour tests,” Olson said.