Hundreds of Bellingham students boycott state’s new standardized test

At least 350 high school juniors have formally refused to take the state’s new standardized test as of Monday, May 18, according to the Bellingham School District.

Sixty-five percent of Sehome High School juniors and 41 percent of Squalicum High School juniors failed to show up for the Smarter Balanced test Monday, said Bellingham School District spokeswoman Jacqueline Brawley. Bellingham High School will administer the test starting Tuesday, and more than 20 percent of juniors there have filled out opt-out forms.

The Smarter Balanced test replaces Washington’s previous state exams and measures federal Common Core standards.

Many students decided to boycott because they oppose all standardized tests, while others simply decided they had no time for another test if it’s not required for graduation.

Lauren Meucci, a Sehome High School junior, said the idea to boycott the Smarter Balanced test caught fire after students saw Nathan Hale High School juniors in Seattle refused to take it last month. She and two other Sehome juniors — Stella Christoforou and Indigo Olson — spread the word on social media and started a Facebook page that calls standardized testing “unproductive and harmful.”

Meucci said all but two or three students in her third period class opted out of the test.

“The general feeling from the students is that this wasn’t a high school requirement and there wasn’t any need for them to take it,” Meucci said.

This year’s juniors already took the previous state test, the High School Proficiency Exam, last year as sophomores. Therefore, they do not need to take the Smarter Balanced test in order to graduate.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has said students choosing not to take the test make it harder to identify which students are struggling. Also, if less than 95 percent of students take it, then the U.S. Department of Education could withhold school funding. He urged students to call U.S. representatives and senators to tell them to change the law rather than refusing the test.

The state will be setting baseline scores based on the results of this year’s test. The classes of 2017 and 2018 will need to pass the exam with those minimum scores in order to graduate.

The class of 2019 is the first that will be expected to pass the test at the higher achievement levels set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, said Brian Rick, director of research and assessment for the school district. Rick has worked on the state technical advisory committee. However, in the multi-state Smarter Balanced field test administered in the 2013-14 school year, less than half of students achieved those higher scores.

Rick said he anticipates those numbers to improve this year. He said during the first years of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which was Washington’s state test from 1997-2009, the passing rates were similar to the field Smarter Balanced test.

The district has taken a neutral stance on students boycotting the test. Mike Copland, deputy superintendent for Bellingham School District, described the boycott as “democracy in action” last week. The district uses the scores to measure student progress and evaluate teaching practices, but he said there are more important assessments for students.

Students at Sehome have said between Advanced Placement tests, Smarter Balanced tests and final exams, too much time is devoted to testing and not enough to learning. The reading and math portions of the Smarter Balanced test add up to a combined 8 1/2 hours of test time for juniors. In Bellingham School District, the test will be broken up over the span of two weeks.

On Monday, the students who didn’t take the test went to their regular class period instead.

“I think most teachers are just going to go along with it and continue class the way it has been,” Meucci said. “Things went well today.”