Scrapping the MAP Charts a Course Toward Good Teaching, Not Flawed Testing

Seattle Public Schools’ decision to allow high schools to opt out of the Measures of Academic Progress is only a partial victory. Educators need to rethink how assessment are used to the benefit of students.

In an all-district email sent May 13, Superintendent Jose Banda wrote, "High schools may opt out of MAP in 2013-14." The announcement led to celebrations at Garfield High School as students and teachers traded high fives and fist bumps in the hallways.

This scene was the culmination of the Garfield faculty's announcement, in January, that we teachers would boycott the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test intended to assess

reading and math. Our civilly disobedient refusal was supported by unanimous votes of the Garfield PTSA and student-body government and was joined by schools across the district.

Teachers cited several facts: the MAP isn't aligned to the curriculum, it is inappropriate for special-education students and English-language learners, and, at the high-school level, the test is statistically unreliable.

While the Seattle School District acknowledged the MAP was inappropriate at the high-school level, it has unfortunately insisted K-8 schools must MAP-test into the future -- making our victory incomplete. The teachers at ORCA K-8 and Thornton Creek Elementary have pledged to maintain their boycott of the MAP because they know the test is not appropriate at any grade level.

The Seattle Education Association conducted a survey that showed 68 percent of educators found the test ineffective at providing useful feedback for instruction. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education's study of MAP demonstrated the test is ineffective and did not improve reading scores for fourth- or fifth-graders.

Eliminating MAP at the high-school level is only the first stage in a process of reversing misguided priorities in education. Washington state ranks first among states in the number of standardized tests required for graduation. Our state spends more than $100 million on standardized tests, yet ranks 42nd in the nation in per-pupil spending.

Instead of giving our tax dollars to commercial testing enterprises that endlessly rank and sort our children, we should use our resources to provide reading coaches, math tutors, smaller class sizes, arts programs, summer-school programs, and other critical services our children need more than ever. We have more than a decade of experience with the obsessive standardized testing demanded by "No Child Left Behind" and it hasn't improved our kids' educations.

Garfield's actions helped spark a national movement to oppose the abuses of standardized testing. In Portland, students initiated their own boycott of the OAKS tests. Some 10,000 parents and students marched in Texas against the overuse of high-stakes tests. Kindergartners and their parents staged a "play-in" at the Chicago School District headquarters against the replacement of the arts with norm-referenced exams.

But it's not enough to be against the abuses of standardized testing. Parents, students and teachers who want the school system our students deserve must advance a vision of assessment that would actually improve education.

That is why educators in Seattle established a Teacher Work Group on Assessment of more than 20 teachers to supplement the district's task force formed to review the MAP. The work group engaged in months of research and recommended "Markers of Quality Assessment" to develop assessments that: reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students' needs; allow opportunities to go back and improve; undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators.

The work group on assessment concluded that quality assessments, at their base, must integrate with classroom curriculum, measure student growth toward standards achievement, and take the form of performance tasks. These tasks, taken as a whole, should replace the MAP because they grow from classroom work, are rigorously evaluated and respect true learning.

Such an assessment system moves away from the notion of high-stakes testing and toward one of high-value learning.

Seattle's teachers, students and parents must continue charting their own course for quality assessment because the destination of a world-class education is not on the MAP.

© 2023 The Seattle Times