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Originally published Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle teacher, suspended for refusing to give WASL, calls test "bad for kids"

A Seattle teacher is spending two weeks on leave without pay for refusing to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) to...

Seattle Times education reporter

A Seattle teacher is spending two weeks on leave without pay for refusing to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) to his sixth-graders this month at Eckstein Middle School.

Carl Chew, 60, who teaches science, wanted to take a stand against a test he considers harmful to students, teachers, schools and families.

"I did it because I think it's bad for kids," he said.

He said he knew he would face consequences, and might even be fired.

"When you do an act of civil disobedience, you gracefully accept what happens to you," he said.

Before the WASL started at Eckstein last week, Chew said he told Eckstein administrators that he would not give the exam. He said they tried to talk him out of it.

He said he spent the first few days of WASL testing working at the district's Science Materials Center, preparing student science kits, as district officials decided what to do.

He then was suspended without pay from Monday through May 2, the day WASL testing ends.

"He failed to follow his duties as teacher," said Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Patti Spencer.

The district, she said, understands there are debates over standardized tests such as the WASL, but it expects teachers to fulfill all their responsibilities, which include giving state-mandated exams.

Teachers are put on unpaid leave as a form of discipline. Paid leave occurs, district staff said, when an investigation into allegations of misconduct is under way.

The WASL is given each year to students in grades 3-8 and Grade 10, and covers reading, writing, math and science. It is used to determine whether Washington schools are meeting the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And starting this year, students must have passed reading and writing on the 10th-grade exam to graduate from high school.

The WASL given to sixth-graders includes just reading and math. Chew was to proctor those subjects for some of his students, but they have had a substitute instead.

Chew may be the first teacher in Washington state to refuse to give the test. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Education Association (WEA), the state's largest teachers union, said they didn't know of any similar cases.

Juanita Doyon, director of the Parent Empowerment Network, an anti-WASL group, says she's heard of only one teacher in the nation who has refused to administer a high-stakes test. That teacher works in Colorado.

Chew, she said, "has taken a brave stand."

Supporters see the WASL as an important way to ensure students gain vital skills they'll need to succeed in college and the workplace. Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson has long said that the state does students no favors if it doesn't set high standards and make sure students reach them.

Critics, however, question the WASL's value as a measure of student learning and as a way to improve instruction.

Chew issued a two-page, single-spaced statement listing all of his concerns about the WASL. It includes his contention that many questions on the test are unclear, notes its costs, and says teachers get little information about how to help students improve. The letter also says the WASL focuses too much attention on just a few subjects.

"I think it's good for students to have basic skills in reading, writing and math," he said. "But also to have good skills in P.E. and art and music and public speaking."

The WASL, he said, needs to be scrapped and replaced with a "gentler, kinder way of finding out what our students know and helping teachers educate them better."

Chew's action is "reflective of a general sense of frustration and dismay that our members feel about the WASL," said Mary Lindquist, president of the WEA.

Chew has been teaching for eight years. He's also been an artist for decades.

This is his first act of civil disobedience, he said, except when he was working as a substitute before he landed a full-time teaching position. He continued to take his fifth-graders out for afternoon recess, he said, even after the principal told him not to do so.

The Parent Empowerment Network is encouraging supporters to send money to Chew to replace his lost wages.

Chew, however, said he won't accept that money, and requests that the dollars instead go to local groups that oppose high-stakes, standardized testing.

He said he didn't tell his students about his plans.

"I simply let them know that I had something important to do during the WASL time, and expected them to treat the guest teacher with respect," he said. "And I told them to do well on the WASL."

And next year?

"I have let them know I'm never going to give the WASL again," Chew said. At the same time, he added, "next year is a long way off."

In the meantime, he said, he plans to think about what might be a "win-win situation."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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