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Boycott of Standardized Tests Spreads as Seattle Teachers Revolt

Teachers in Seattle schools refuse to administer 'specious' standardized tests. Will others follow their lead?

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Opponents of the nation's relentless push for standardized testing in public schools have new champions in Seattle this week as teachers at one high school and now another have refused to issue such exams to their students, calling them a waste of "time and money" amid "dwindling school resources."

The entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School (with only three abstentions) voted to support a boycott against administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) this week or ever again. Garfield is the largest of thirteen high schools in the Seattle Public School (SPS) system.

In a press release, Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, said the test “produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources” during the weeks the test is administered.

On Friday, teachers at Ballard High School said they would join the boycott as well. National support for the teachers was also growing online, as a petition circulated and a facebook page for the teachers materialized.

Following some fear that the Garfield teachers could face disciplinary action, well-known education policy expert Diane Ravitch was among those using social media to garner additional support for their cause on Saturday:

In an interview with Seattle's KUOW Radio, Ravitch said, "This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the entire staff of a school has said ‘no, we will not do this. It’s not good for the students, and it’s a waste of time and money.’"

A letter issued by the Garfield teachers said they would all "respectfully decline to give the MAP test" to any of their students this year.

“I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will?" –Mario Shauvette, Garfield High math teacher

"We have had different levels of experiences with MAP in our varied careers, have read about it, and discussed it with our colleagues," they said. "After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again."

The Christian Science Monitor recounts the teachers' press event in dramatic fashion:

Forty-five minutes after school let out Thursday afternoon, 19 teachers... at Seattle's Garfield High School worked their way to the front of an already-crowded classroom, then turned, leaned their backs against the wall of whiteboards, and fired the first salvo of open defiance against high-stakes standardized testing in America's public schools.

To a room full of TV cameras, reporters, students, and colleagues, the teachers announced their refusal to administer a standardized test that ninth-graders across the district are mandated to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test – for Measures of Academic Progress – it is intended to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math.

First one teacher, then another, and then more stepped forward to charge that the test wastes time, money, and dwindling school resources.

“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” McBride told the crowded room. “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.”History teacher Jesse Hagopian discusses Garfield High School teachers’ decision to refuse to the give the MAP test to their students during a press conference in Seattle on Thursday. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

In addition to the detrimental impact on students, teachers also pushed back against the test as a way to evaluate teacher performance.

"To use this (MAP) as a tool to evaluate our teaching makes no sense," said Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High. "They're setting us up for failure. And Garfield High School is not a failure. We're the home of (former students) Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Quincy Jones."

Hagopian told Common Dreams that Garfield has a proud tradition of teaching to the "whole student" and that its faculty came together because they understand that test results do no adequately tell the story of who students are or will go on to be. "No one cares how Jimi Hendrix scored on a high school math test," he said. "And no one should."

“We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” said Garfield 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, just did it as quickly as possible so they could do something more useful with their time.”

Asked if teachers were worried about what lessons students might take away from their defiant boycott chairman of the math department Mario Shauvette, stepped forward and said: “I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will? I’m taking charge of what I do here.”

For his part, Wayne Au, former Garfield student and now assistant professor of education at the University of Washington, says teachers at his alma mater are offering their students—and others involved in the fight against corporate school reform—many valuable lessons.

Writing at ReThinking Schools, where he is assistant editor, Au explains:

At the most basic level, the national corporate school reform agenda requires teachers’ compliance. So regardless of individual motives, when a group of teachers collectively and publicly says NO, that represents a fundamental challenge to those pushing that elite agenda. The growing support for Garfield teachers’ resistance to the MAP test is a testament to just how much the collective action of teachers at one school means to the rest of the world.

Having all of the teachers at a school decide to support a boycott of a high-stakes, standardized test is a rare and beautiful thing, one that hasn’t happened since some Chicago teachers did it over a decade ago. That is powerful and inspirational stuff, and as far as I’m concerned, because we don’t yet know the district’s response, the teachers at Garfield are showing a level courage and heroism that I love and admire.

When nearby Ballard High School joined the boycott, teachers there cited numerous and various reasons for aligning with their colleagues at Garfield.

The test—teachers at Ballard said in a letter explaining their decision—has "been re-purposed by district administration to form part of a teacher’s evaluation, which is contrary to the purposes it was designed for, as stated by its purveyor, making it part of junk science."

The Ballard High teachers, who spoke as one unit, said they were in full agreement with and would stand in support of those at Garfield. "Specifically," they said, "the MAP test program throughout Seattle Public Schools ought to be shut down immediately. It has been and continues to be an embarrassing mistake. Continuing it even another day, let alone another month or year or decade, will not turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse."

As Reuters points out: "The revolt... comes at a time of fierce political battles over teacher evaluations that has played out in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles." And continues:

The MAP test that has become a point of contention at Garfield is given at schools around the country but is not required by Washington state.

Unlike the tests required by the state, which are the High School Proficiency Exam and the End-of-Course exams, it has no bearing on students' grades or their ability to graduate.

Education journalist Valerie Strauss, writing at her Answer Sheet blog, adds:

The boycotts are part of a growing grass-roots revolt against the excessive use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states. The high-stakes testing era began a decade under No Child Left Behind, and critics say that the exams are being inappropriately used and don’t measure a big part of what students learn.

Parents have started to opt out of having their children take the exams; school boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems; thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests; superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. It has been building momentum in the last year, since Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, said publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.

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