'Beyond Measure': Exploring Alternatives to Standardized Testing

A new film highlights the education revolution brewing at Garfield High School and other public schools across the nation

Remember not reading the book but feeling passionately about the pages you’ve never read? That’s how I feel about the film A Race to Nowhere. I never made it to a screening, but I’m avidly interested in changing our achievement-obsessed educational system. So I’m heartened to hear the film Beyond Measure gives viewers “a positive picture of what’s possible in American education when communities decide they are ready for change.”

This movie, from the makers of A Race to Nowhere, is being screened for free (free!) at Garfield High School this Thursday, Jan. 28 at 6:30 pm. This 90-minute documentary shows schools that are moving away from test-driven education. 

Cool fact: Garfield High School (GHS) is featured in the film! A group of GHS teachers formed an assessment team a few years ago and have been traveling to New York to study the New York Performance Standards Consortium Schools who believe that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to educating and testing students. These teacher have begun to implement some of these methods when assessing their students at GHS. 

“The stakes that are attached to tests are high, and the burden of this falls on the shoulders of our students,” says Anastasia Samuelsen, the PTSA secretary at Garfield and a parent of a sophomore student. “Our most vulnerable populations — those who are learning English as a second language, those living in poverty, those facing learning challenges in terms of special needs--are being asked to take these computerized exams that have incredibly debilitating consequences should they fail.”

But what I really want to know is if Beyond Measure offers hopeful solutions. Samuelson assures me that it does. 

“This film explores what’s working outside of the box in different parts of the country, including at GHS. And it has student voices in it. It’s the kids who are taking the tests, and the pressure falls on them: whether you will graduate or advance to the next grade level and whether or not their teachers will get performance pay or have job security,” Samuelson slays. “If Race to Nowhere showed us a wound, Beyond Measure shows us how to treat the wound well. Here are some things that are being done to change education.”

After the movie, Beyond Measure film director Vicki Abeles and GHS Teachers Jesse Hagopian, Rachel Eells and Heather Robison will lead a panel discussion. The screening is being hosted by The Seattle Opt Out movement, which is working to deepen the conversations around high stakes standardized testing.  A follow-up question and answer event will take place Feb. 11 at the Columbia Branch Library in Seattle at 5:30 p.m. with GHS teachers and local educator Wayne Au.

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