School Beat: Seattle Teachers Take a Stand for Students

by lisa Schiff on January 24, 2013

Yesterday afternoon Seattle public school teachers rallied as part of their now two-week boycott of a standardized test used by their district, the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The entire teaching staff, of Garfield High School, supported by the school’s PTSA and by the Seattle Education Association, has refused to administer MAP based on serious flaws with the test that have been a longstanding source of concern by teachers and parents. Previous objections to MAP did not result in the district suspending its use, so these teachers have taken a courageous step to protect their students and use resources on meaningful educational activities.

The problems Garfield’s teachers have surfaced regarding MAP are typical of the weaknesses we see with so many standardized tests, and are eloquently described by Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian in a recent Seattle Times opinion piece. The more stark enumeration of flaws revealed in this December 21, 2012 critique should ring familiar to all parents, students and educators, including:

• The test is statistically invalid for high school students, so its results are not usable
• MAP is misaligned with the curriculum, so students are tested on material they have not yet been taught or that may not even be in that year’s material. In an analysis from over two years ago, one second grade Seattle teacher identified seriously inappropriate math goals for such young children, such as “Divides integers with unlike signs” and “Applies algebraic methods to solve theoretical problems.”
• The test takes over 5 hours of language arts and math class time from students. Again, this is in addition to other time spent on all other tests.
• MAP requires the dedicate use of computer labs, eliminating their availability for other students during testing.
• In a clear case of conflict-of-interest, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent bringing MAP to to Seattle’s public schools by the previous superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who at that time also happened to sit on the board of the organization that sells MAP, the Northwest Evaluation Association.

Garfield teachers have been getting support from far-and-wide and from throughout Seattle. Teachers from other schools in the city have backed their colleagues in this protest and those who are participating in the boycott are all now facing serious repercussions from their district’s superintendent, José Banda. On Wednesday, Banda sent a message via a mandatory faculty meeting warning that teachers who do not issue MAP may be suspended for up to 10 days without pay, followed a day later by a tacit acknowledgment of MAPS’ weaknesses and the formation of a new task force to do a thorough analysis and find possible alternatives.

As with Chicago’s public school teachers who last year went on strike over teaching and learning conditions, the Seattle teachers who are boycotting the use of MAP are making an important stand and taking a huge risk to do so. The issue is not just with MAP, but with the entire commoditized, test-driven educational system that is now motivated by the ability to sell educational products at scale. All of our schools are caught up in a distorted educational environment; none are shielded. For example, while San Francisco’s public school students don’t take the MAP test, they take the Common Learning Assessment (CLA), a different test developed by a different private company, but with many of the same problems. And there is still the lunacy of No Child Left Behind’s 2014 deadline of achieving 100% reading and math proficiency for those states not deemed worthy enough to receive an exemption by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In other words, the fight in Seattle is our fight too–and that of every community across the country.

People everywhere can provide support for Seattle’s teachers in multiple ways:

Contact Superintendent Banda and tell him to suspend MAP, not teachers.
• Sign and share the petition in support of Seattle’s teachers
Keep up to date as events unfold
• Get informed about authentic assessments and the problems with high-stakes standardized tests

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.

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