Two high school seniors from Eugene and Springfield have formed a coalition called the Willamette Valley Student Union, a group of high school students seeking to implement change in education, starting with standardized testing.
Emmy Lindsey, a senior from South Eugene High School, says the idea for the union formed last school year with the roll out of Smarter Balanced, a standardized test students took for the first time this April. Around 11 percent of students in Eugene School District 4J did not take the test.
“I was really opposed to the way that we were taking up so much of our class time to take these tests, and how much money we were spending on them,” she says. “We made a push at South to have juniors opt out.”
Over at the Academy of Arts and Academics (A3) in Springfield, Cas Nelson was making the same push, and the two students connected over their shared interest in activism.
“As opposed to having two individuals trying to make a difference in their schools, we wanted to see a group of students come together,” Lindsey explains.
The group had its first meeting this month, in which a small gathering of interested students, including cofounders Lindsey and Nelson, decided to focus on the issue of testing this year.
Lindsey says the group discussed how to get parents more involved and informed about testing, and they talked about “trying to flood the system with as much information as possible” by going to parent meetings or standing outside schools to give kids and parents “the other side of the story.”
Sam Krop, a humanities teacher at A3 who has played a supportive role in the formation of the union, says she found the meeting “inspiring” and voiced her confidence in the students.
“For any social justice issue, it’s important for the group that’s directly impacted to have their voices heard the most,” Krop says. “Students are the ones whose graduation is being threatened because of the tests. They have to sit through them. It has to be led by students.”
Lindsey says that the union is open to all high school students in the Willamette Valley area. The goal for this year, she says, is “to continue the increase in the [Smarter Balanced] opt-out rate and focus on trying to get the state to realize that high-stakes standardized testing isn’t working.”
The group isn’t exclusively focused on testing, Lindsey adds, and students strive to tackle other topics as well. “One issue we’ve seen between schools is special education and the lack of integration of students with learning disabilities,” Lindsey gives as an example.
The Willamette Valley Student Union’s next meeting takes place Sunday, Nov. 1, at The Boreal, 450 W. 3rd Ave., time TBA.