Opt out now: The Seattle NAACP Revives the Legacy WEB Du Bois, Demands an End to Common Core Testing

Seattle NAACP President Gerald Hankerson addresses the SBAC press conference. (Photo: KING)Seattle NAACP President Gerald Hankerson addresses the SBAC press conference. (Photo: KING)

“…the Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.”

-Gerald Hankerson, current President of the Seattle/King County NAACP

“It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [first] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”

—W.E.B Du Bois, Co-founder of the NAACP

On Tuesday, April 7, 2015 Gerald Hankerson, the President of the Seattle/King CountyNAACP and Rita Green, the Education Chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP, began our press conference with a powerful idea and a call for action that holds the potential to help produce a tremendous social transformation. Together their opening remarks at the press conference—a gathering of parents, teachers, and community leaders that I helped to organize in opposition to the CommonCore “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC) tests—represent a clarion call to both education advocates and social justice activists across the country. Their simple, yet mighty, proposition is that the movement to oppose high-stakes standardized testing and the Black Lives Matter movement (and other struggles against oppression) should and can unite in a great uprising in service of transforming our schools into an environment designed to nurture our children, in body and intellect, rather than to rank, sort, and reproduce institutional racism.

Seattle NAACP President Hankerson (font left) and Education Chair Rita Green (front right) with supporters outside of the press conference.Seattle NAACP President Hankerson (font left) and Education Chair Rita Green (front right) with supporters outside of the press conference.

Hankerson, kicking off the event, referenced the “long and ugly history” of using standardized tests in an effort to establish white supremacy. This is a history that the corporate “testocracy” is desperate to insure remains hidden from the public, as the uncovering of this history would bury their attempts to claim that standardizing testing is the key to closing the “achievement gap.” As the social justice education periodicalRethinking Schools recently editorialized,

“Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.”

One of these early eugenicists was Carl Brigham, a professor at Princeton University and author of the white supremacist manifesto, A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham left Princeton during WWI to develop and administer IQ tests used to sort the grunt soldiers, who would be used as cannon fodder, from the officers who would oversee the war. Upon the conclusion of the war, Brigham returned to Princeton and developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT, that came to be used as a gatekeeper to Princeton. Soon standardized tests became commonplace in the public schools. As Alan Stoskepf wrote, “by the early 1920s, more than 2 million American school children were being tested primarily for academic tracking purposes. At least some of the decisions to allocate resources and select students for academic or vocational courses were influenced by eugenic notions of student worth.” It should be no surprise, then, that some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. In a statement that that is still denied by the testocracy today, Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote:

But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.

Bond was expressing then what is now called the “Zip Code Effect,”—the fact that what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture, resulting in wealthier, and predominately whiter, districts scoring better on tests. Of course you would expect the testocracy—mostly comprised of billionaires and the politicians who protect them—to ignore the history and powerful message of these early 20th century Black intellectuals who were in the struggle against the impacts of inequality on the schools. But what saddens me is that the national NAACP organization today has forgotten one of the most important lessons of its founder, the great W.E.B. Du Bois —one of the towering figures in the history of the struggle against both racism and standardized testing. Recently, the national NAACP came out in support of maintaining the requirement of annual standardized testing for the reauthorization of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

But as Seattle/King County NAACP Education Chair, Rita Green, stated at the press conference, “If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.”

With President Hankerson and Education Chair Green’s direction, the Seattle NAACP is reviving the great lessons of the Black struggle and advocating for the kind of direct action against injustice that propelled the civil rights movement. President Hankerson concluded his opening statement with these unequivocal words:

“It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians being accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. We are calling on all parents to opt out and opt out now!”

Here then is the entire statement of the Seattle/King County NAACP on SBAC CommonCore testing:

It is the position of the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP to come outagainst the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, commonly referred to as SBAC.

Seattle and Washington State public schools are not supplied with proper resources and a lack of equity within our schools continue to exist.

The State of Washington cannot hold teachers responsible for the outcome of students test results; when these very students are attending schools in a State that ranks 47th out of 50 States in the Nation when it comes to funding education.

Furthermore, Washington State cannot expect the majority of students to perform well on increased targeted performance assessments while the State continues to underfund education in direct violation of a Washington State Supreme Court Order.

We also know that our students of color are disproportionately underfunded and will disproportionately be labeled failing by the new SBAC test. For this reason, we view the opt out movement as a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice. Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history. It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians be accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap.

The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.

We urge families to opt out of the SBAC test and to contact their local and state officials to advise them to abide by the State Supreme Court McCleary decision to fully fund education.—Rita Green, MBA; Seattle King County NAACP Education Chair