What’s Going On in Seattle?

January 17, 2013

When I heard that more teachers from another school in Seattle were joining the boycott against standardized testing, Alicia Key’s latest hit popped in my head.

Because, yes, Seattle, you are in fact on fire.

So what’s going on in Seattle? Courage. History. The beginning of the end. As a fellow future teacher and good friend of mine tweeted, “Let Arne Duncan tremble at an education revolution. The teachers have nothing to lose but their standardized tests.”

Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle unanimously voted to not administer a district-wide standardized test to their students. Teachers at Garfield High School know and stated the the tests are a waste of time and money.

Here is their statement:

SEATTLE – In perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School will announce this afternoon their refusal to administer a standardized test that students in other high schools across the district are scheduled to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test, it purports to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math. The teachers contend that it wastes time, money, and precious school resources.

“Our teachers have come together and agree that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” says Kris McBride, who serves as Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator at Garfield. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.”

McBride explained that the MAP test, which stands for Measure of Academic Progress, is administered two to three times each year to 9th grade students as well as those receiving extra support services. The students are told the test will have no impact on their grades or class standing, and, because of this, students tend to give it little thought to the test and hurry through it. In addition, there seems to be little overlap between what teachers are expected to teach (state and district standards) and what is measured on the test.

Despite this flaw, McBride states, results of the MAP tests will be used by district officials to help evaluate the effectiveness of instructors who give the test. “Our teachers feel strongly that this type of evaluative tool is unfair based on the abundance of problems with the exam, the content, and the statistical insignificance of the students’ scores,” she says.

Refusing to administer a district-mandated test is not a decision the school’s teachers made casually, or without serious internal discussion.

“Those of us who give this test have talked about it for several years,” explained Mallory Clarke, Garfield’s Reading Specialist. “When we heard that district representatives themselves reported that the margin of error for this test is greater than an individual student’s expected score increase, we were appalled!”

After the affected faculty decided unanimously to make a stand against the MAP test, they told the rest of Garfield’s faculty of their decision. In a December 19 vote, the rest of the school’s teachers voted overwhelmingly to support their colleagues’ refusal to administer the test. Not a single teacher voted against the action. Four abstained from voting. the rest voted to support it.

“We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” said student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry.“I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class– and we have great classes here at Garfield. I know students who just go through the motions when taking the test, did it as quickly as possible so that they could do something more useful with their time.” History teacher Jesse Hagopian said, “What frustrates me about the MAP test is that the computer labs are monopolized for weeks by the MAP test, making research projects very difficult to assign.” Hagopian added “This especially hurts students who don’t have a computer at home.”

The $4 million MAP test was purchased by Seattle Public Schools during the tenure of former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who left her position in 2011 and sadly passed away in 2012. Goodloe-Johnson sat on the board of directors of Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the company that markets the MAP test. At the time, some pointed out this potential conflict of interest for Goodloe-Johnson, but the district went ahead with the purchase nonetheless. NWEA itself warns that districts should not use the map test to evaluate teachers. We teachers of Garfield High School believe that the NWEA is right—this test should not be used to evaluate teachers. For secondary teachers the test cannot provide useful information about students’ skills and progress. Still worse, this test should not rob students of precious class time away from instruction. “We believe the negative aspects of the MAP test so outweigh the positive ones that we are willing to take this step,” said Language Arts teacher Adam Gish.

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And just yesterday, it was announced that eleven teachers and instructional assistants at another school in Seattle were going to also boycott the district-required tests.

These teachers reflect what revolutionizing education looks like. These teachers know what is best for their students, and they are taking a paramount step to make it be known.

For years I have been told not go into teaching for a number of reasons, but this past year sticks out in my mind particularly. As my blog and aspirations caught other teachers’ attention, I often received messages advising me not to go into teaching because the attacks were never going to stop, that teaching isn’t what I think it’s going to be. And my automatic response is yet again strengthened–why would I tremble in fear and not join the fight to demand better? Just like how I felt with the Chicago Teachers Union strike, we can either accept bad policies and let our students and profession suffer, or we can be brave, sacrifice what we’ve got, and start standing up for what we know is right.

Teachers such as those in Seattle give me hope. They make the fact that I’ll be an actual teacher in just 2 more years that much more exciting. This is only the beginning, and we can only hope that more teachers will take similar action.

To show your support please visit their Facebook page: Solidarity with Garfield High School testing boycott and sign their petition.

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Stephanie Rivera

Stephanie Rivera is a student at Rutgers University. She is a future teacher and educational equity activist.