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Teachers union urges boycott of tests

January 27, 2009 | 12:02 pm

The teachers union this morning called for teachers to refuse to give standardized tests unless they are mandated by the state or federal government. The union, United Teachers Los Angeles, is taking aim at "periodic assessments," which are a major element of the instructional strategy of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The union asserts that ending these tests will save the school district millions of dollars during a budget crisis. Although district officials decided against midyear teacher layoffs last week, massive cuts are looming because of an ongoing state budget crisis that has filtered down to local school systems.

The tests at issue are given three or four times a year in major subject areas, such as math and English. The idea is to give teachers insight into what students need to learn while there is still time in the current school year to adjust instruction as necessary.

The union leadership characterizes the tests as yet another mandate that constricts curriculum and takes away time from teaching. Teachers should be trusted to develop their own evaluations of student progress, said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. 

"We test our students to death," said Duffy during a morning news conference at Emerson Middle School on the Westside. "We have estimated that we lose over a month of instructional time in testing, and it’s not just giving a test. It’s about test preparation. It’s about weeks of zeroing in on subject topic areas so that we make sure our kids test well. This is not about quality education. This is about producing a test score so that some clown in Sacramento or Washington can point to an education system and say, 'You see! They are failing.'"

But newly appointed Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said the assessments, when managed properly, are tremendously useful. He said he is willing to amend any aspects of them that need improvement, but that he doesn't want to toss them out. Cortines said that the assessments are one reason why district performance on the annual state tests is improving. He also asserted that the assessments are part of a teacher's assigned duties -- they are not optional.

In a story for Wednesday's paper, an independent analysis by The Times will look at the effect of these assessments.

-- Howard Blume