Recently, in a nearly unanimous vote, the staff at Seattle’s Garfield HS decided to refuse to administer the district’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. In doing this, educators at Garfield HS have struck out against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests. Seattle Schools spt. Jose Banda had this to say in an e mail sent to all SPS staff today, ” . . .I am asking as your Superintendent that teachers follow our policies and procedures and administer this assessment for our students. This is especially important for our students who are the most at-risk academically. I am hopeful we will continue to work together in support of our students.” He is gathering a “task force” to compile statements about the MAP tests and will re-evaluate in May.
The $4 million test was purchased by SPS while Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who left in 2011 under a financial scandal (she sadly passed away just last year). Goodloe-Johnson forced the test on the district without revealing that she sat on the board of directors of Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). Even after this potential conflict of interest was revealed and despite objections by the majority of SPS educators, the district went ahead and purchased the test anyway.
Garfield teachers did not arrive at their decision lightly. After much discussion and soul searching, they decided the tests negative aspects far outweigh its benefits. Students are pulled from class, losing valuable learning time to take a test that has no impact on their grades or class standing, and carries virtually no weight except it’s being used to evaluate teachers. Ninth-graders take the test two to three times a year, including students receiving extra support services. The computerized test monopolizes the school’s computers for the several days in which the test is taken. This means students cannot use the school computers to work on school assignments, further eroding their learning.
A few other Seattle Schools have also followed Garfield’s lead and are refusing to administer the MAP test. Now the district is threatening to withhold ten day’s pay for all teachers in the schools refusing to administer the test. This resulted in a rally at district headquarters on January 23, with approximately 300 teachers, parents and students rallying in solidarity with Garfield.
I arrived to a packed crowd standing outside district headquarters chanting, “scrap the map.” Seattle Education Assn. president, Jonathan Knapp spoke of how there were growing attacks on all teachers over the last few years and that many elected officials were trying to drive a wedge between teachers and their unions. When he asked what we learned from the Sandy Hook tragedy, someone yelled, “that teachers protect their kids.” Knapp added that there are three types of people who run to where the bullets are being fired, policemen, firefighters and teachers. This garnered raucous cheers and applause.
The group was then led in a song with the chorus of, “solidarity for Garfield. Our kids are not test scores.” This faded back into chants of “scrap the MAP” as we all marched inside to where the school board was holding a meeting.
Inside, we quickly realized that the doors to the meeting were locked. It was obvious we were not welcome in this meeting that is supposed to be open to the public. We continued chanting, “Scrap the MAP” until someone told us we could only come in if we were quiet, that we were being disruptive. This gave way to statements of, “threatening teachers with no pay for ten days is being disruptive.” And “when they tie up our computers that could be better used for research and school projects, that’s disruptive.” This was followed by loud chants of, “No more threats! No more threats!”
Someone suggested we “hold a moment of silence for the MAP. After a statement of, “the wisdom of silence is the wisdom of our message that irresponsible testing is irresponsible teaching.,” followed by someone saying, “we envision a day where we teach children to their intelligence, to their creativity — to recognize that each child is an individual, not a test score.” Then we all filed into the meeting hall. As we sat down, we were met by uneasy smiles and silence from the school board members and Spt. Banda. Shortly after, the board stated that there would be a special meeting held on this issue on January 31st at 5 p.m. I plan to attend this meeting.
Seattle’s Garfield High boasts several famous alumni including Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Bruce Lee, Brandon Roy and Macklemore. Garfield states that they have a long tradition of cultivating thinking, lyrical innovation, civic leadership and moral courage, among other qualities that cannot be measured by filling in a bubble with a no. 2 pencil.
I recently watched kindergartners and first-graders take the MAP and watched as five to seven-year-olds without much computer experience tried to answer the questions on the test. I also noted that these were the same questions that teachers are testing their students on. The teachers are evaluating their students constantly to monitor progress. Why are we paying for tests that do what the teachers are already doing?
Seattle’s ninth and tenth grade students already take five state required standardized tests and eleventh and twelfth-graders take three. Seattle Public Schools staff admitted that the MAP test is not valid at the high school level because the margin of error is greater than the expected gains.
I have also seen first hand the effects of so many tests have on special needs students. I have worked with special education students in Seattle Schools for fifteen years. The many tests they are forced to take causes extreme anxiety in students who suffer from emotional imbalances.
We all applaud the Garfield teachers for refusing to administer the MAP test in protest over its punitive character. For the record, Sweden is reported to have the best education system in the world and Sweden not only does not give any standardized test to their students, they pay their teachers a livable wage. This issue is far from over.