Seattle Test Boycott Victory: One Step in the Struggle for Quality Education

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Common Dreams

Seattle Test Boycott Victory: One Step in the Struggle for Quality Education

“High schools may opt out of MAP in 2013-14."

This message was sent in an all-district communication blast, sent at 2:06 PM on Monday May 13th by Seattle Public School Superintendent Jose Banda, and led to spontaneous end of the day celebrations of teachers and students around Garfield High School. Students fist-bumping teachers. Teachers high-fiving each other. Spontaneous assemblies in the hallway to congratulate each other.

Until now, the “Measures of Academic Progress” (or MAP) tests were required by the Seattle School District for students in all grades (K-12). A unified group of Garfield teachers announced in January, 2013, they were no longer going to administer the tests to students at Garfield. Other Seattle schools followed suit, and the bravery of these teachers led to a national movement.

What this test told educators: "If we stand for what’s right for students, teachers can win."

Why were Garfield teachers’ celebrating the discontinuing of the MAP for our students next year?

We celebrated because we know hundreds of hours of student time will no longer be wasted on a test the district has now acknowledged is inappropriate for our students.

We celebrated because our English Language Learner students will no longer be humiliated by taking a test that is not culturally or linguistically appropriate and they will now have more hours to spend on the additional instructional time they need.

We celebrated because our special education students will not have to fidget in their chairs when they strike a computer key for the MAP test that never accounted for the student's individualized education plans.

We celebrated because our students will no longer have to stare at the dull glow of a computer screen as they contemplate what possible answers they could give to questions on material that was never part of their state-mandated curriculum.

We celebrated because our evaluations would not be tied to test scores generated by bored students who have no motivation to perform well on possibly their fifth standardized test of the year. Annoyed students have been known to select “C” for each and every answer on that silly test.

We celebrated because we still have jobs we love, and because our superintendent had to back off of his original threat to suspend teachers for ten days without pay for refusing to administer an ill-conceived test (for which the district spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year).

We celebrated because teaches, parents, and students across the country (from Austin to Boston) and around the world (from New Zealand to England) have been inspired by our resistance and are waging their own battles for quality assessment.

Perhaps most of all, we were celebrating because we are building a collaborative spirit of faculty and student solidarity at Garfield. Our students know we have their best interests at heart, and that the power of our commitment to truth can overcome the powerful.

Yet while teachers at five of Seattle’s high schools (Chief Sealth, Center School, Ballard, Ingraham, and Garfield) who joined the MAP boycott are elated by the news of this victory, Superintendent Banda’s e-mail also warned that students in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade will still be required to take the test next year.

The key to the victory over the high school MAP test was solidarity and widespread public support, and we intend to carry these lessons forward to change policy for K-8 schools as well.

Our victory, then, remains incomplete. Faculty at ORCA (K-5) and Thornton Creek Elementary have raised equally powerful arguments about the flawed use of the test at the primary grade levels. Moreover, the Department of Education released results from its 2012 study, showing the MAP to be ineffective at improving reading levels for students in the 4th and 5th grades. Similarly, the Chicago school district recently announced it was suspending the MAP for grades K-5—a clear indication the MAP isn’t serving the youngest pupils either.

For these reasons, Seattle’s high school teachers will continue to join with our K-8 colleagues to call on the Seattle School District terminate its contract with the MAP test company at the end of this school year (when the agreement expires). The key to the victory over the high school MAP test was solidarity and widespread public support, and we intend to carry these lessons forward to change policy for K-8 schools as well.

As we both continue to build the movement to scrap the MAP and celebrate our huge victory, we shouldn't forget the answer to this year's end of semester exam: if we stand for what’s right for students, teachers can win.

Jesse Hagopian

Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the Black Student Union adviser at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test.  Jesse is the editor and contributing author to the forthcoming book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing (Haymarket Books, 2014). Jesse an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine, a founding member of Social Equality Educators (SEE), and recipient of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. Follow Jesse on his blog at www.iamaneducator.com or on Twitter: @jessedhagopian

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