Scrap the Map: Teachers and Parents Gather To Hear A Seminar About Standardized Testing For Washington Public School Students, By Holly Homan

This student protested against MAP testing last January.

This student protested against MAP testing last January.

On a drizzly Thursday night I ventured ten miles south to the University of Washington’s Science & Engineering Building for a seminar on Scrap the MAP. As many of you know, there has been a boycott started in the Seattle School district against the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) test that is forced on students three times a year. Teachers at Garfield High School unanimously voted not to administer district-mandated standardized MAP tests this semester, calling them a waste of time and money. They are now facing the threat of “consequences” for refusing the give the test. Students and parents are joining the struggle.

The first panelist was Diane Ravitch, who spoke via Skype. She is an educational policy analyst and a NYU professor. She revealed that the US is the only country in the world that tests so much and went on to explain that these tests are only a good indicator of poverty. In her book called Reign of Error- The Hopes of Privatizing the Dangers to America’s Public Schools (this title may not be accurate as she kept cutting out on Skype whenever she mentioned the title). Children living in poverty tend to produce lower test scores so that teachers who teach in high poverty will produce lower test scores. This is just one of the many reasons why evaluating teachers on test scores is ludicrous.

The next speaker was Jonathan Knapp, president of Seattle Education Assn. Mr. Knapp talked about the concern all over the country about over testing of our students. In the next bargaining session coming this spring, testing will dominate the negotiations. Washington Education Assn. President Mary Lindquist spoke about how the MAP has become the talk of the nation. Other teacher associations want to be on board. Raucous applause filled the room when she stated that when the teachers stand up, people take notice. And the teachers who care deeply about the kids they teach are standing up for those kids it makes society a better place. She asked how much are we spending on testing, adding that funding to public education has been cut by two billion dollars. Kids are being taken out of class and libraries are off limits while these tests are being administered.

Dora Taylor, founding member and board director of Parents Across America and editor of Seattle Education Blog, spoke about being a parent and a teacher and seeing the stress tests cause to students. She relocated with her family and moved to Mercer Island because she was under the false assumption that because Mercer Island had excellent test scores, it must be a great district. She said nothing could have been further from the truth–that her daughter found that they were only being taught to the test. There was no emphasis on creativity.

Ms. Taylor went on to say that tests can be useful, but not for evaluating teachers and not for closing schools. She went on to mention a bill in Olympia that will make closing schools mandatory if they are deemed as failing, disenfranchising the poor and that instead of politicians making education policies, it should be educators, students and parents making those decisions. There is also a bill in Olympia that would require districts to make the cost of the tests transparent and also force them to state if the test is mandatory, do they need to take the test to graduate (MAP isn’t a high stakes test).

Matt Carter, a teacher at Orca K-8 and a parent of a kindergartner and second-grader at the same school, was next to speak. He stated that their decision to boycott the MAP is an act of insubordination and civil disobedience. The superintendent, Jose Banda, has threatened these teachers with suspension without pay, but recently rescinded that threat (verbally) with the caveat that they still would be disciplined. Mr. Carter went on to explain that standardized tests came from the eugenics movement to prove that whites were the superior race and revealed that twelve teachers at Orca are boycotting the test and half of Orca’s parents have opted their kids out.

Another teacher, Gerardine Carroll from the tiny Center School came up to speak. She stated that 95% of the teachers at Center School are boycotting the spring MAP and stressed that The Center School being so small, it is just counter-productive to have the students miss class and for the computers to be off limits for the testing.

Eric Muhs, a physics and astronomy teacher at Ballard High claims his college prep class is not funded by Seattle Schools, pointing out that Seattle can’t fund classes, but always has plenty of money for tests. He stated that when he heard Spt. Banda was threatening to suspend protesting teachers that he wrote him a letter saying, “suspend me too because I’m also boycotting the test.” He said Spt. Banda never got back to him. Meanwhile 40% of Ballard teachers have joined the boycott. Many other teachers want to support the boycott but have mortgages and other bills to pay and cannot afford a suspension without pay, and are afraid to join the cause. Mr. Muhs went on to claim that these tests reduce kids to just a score an that they are used for gatekeepers of advanced placement and as a tool for evaluating teachers. He also said that SAT claims high school grades and not tests are the best indicator for college readiness. Teachers test kids in various ways while a test evaluates in only one way as if they were coming out of a factory.

During MAP testing (three times a year), computer labs are tied up and can’t be used by students doing research and students are taken out of class to be tested, wasting valuable learning time. In one school, the tests had to be administered by administrators because the teachers refused to do it. But by now, the number of students taking the test dropped by a third. Some students simply sat in front of the computer and refused to take the test.

Testing coordinator for Garfield, Chris McBride said she supported the decision by the teachers to boycott the MAP. These tests are wrong for our kids. Further, the scores do not result in any type of intervention for students who produce low scores. There’s no funding for extra help for struggling students and the MAP has little to no relevance on the curriculum being taught to students. The test was forced on educators by former superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who sat on the board of the company producing the test. She did not reveal this fact until after the district spent $4 million to buy the MAP.

The deadline for administering the MAP was extended a week and will end tomorrow (March1), so teachers could still face disciplinary action. Everyone attending hoped that the teachers will be listened to. These teachers are trying to do what’s best for the kids. Washington State spends $100 million on state tests — higher than any other state in the country. And for what? Teachers know who’s not at grade level. Funding is desperately needed for after school programs and reading and math programs, but the money instead goes for tests, which are bought from the private, for profit companies.

The final speaker was Professor Wayne Au from UW Bothell and editorial board member of Rethinking Schools. He said that standardized tests are used for closing schools, firing teachers, and to set up charter schools. Further, the scorers of these tests are temporary workers who receive minimum training and are graded per test. They have hundreds of tests to grade, so spend about one minute grading each test. Testing companies also must constantly show their tests are reliable so they change their scores to reflect reliability so they don’t lose their lucrative contract. Often test scores vary from year to year and that out of school factors have the biggest impact on test scores.

Corporation education reformers are spending huge amounts of money to keep tests in the public school system (remember Mitt Romney wanted to increase testing for public school students) and are purposely avoiding the real problems affecting students.

As a post script, the MAP cost Seattle Schools $4 million to buy and the yearly renewal fee is somewhere around $450 thousand dollars. This year and last, teachers were forced to take half day furloughs unpaid. Students had to go home half a day early because there wasn’t enough money to pay the teachers. There was never any mention of eliminating any of the tests (Seattle administers other tests besides the MAP and it’s the MAP alone that cost $4 million and is costing $450 thousand to renew each year).In other words, there’s enough money to buy tests, but not enough to keep students and teachers in the classroom.

Big business and corporations have found a way to undermine our public education. Everything that was started to be a public cause is slowly becoming privatized and for profit.

Seattle Schools’ levy recently passed and teachers are pressuring Spt. Banda into allowing some of that levy money to be spent on teacher service learning. Right now there’s no funding for that either.

This movement is gaining momentum all over the nation. Stay tuned. The battle has just begun.

Holly Homan

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