January 2013, Week 3


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Tue, 15 Jan 2013 23:09:00 -0500
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Boycott of Standardized Tests Spreads as Seattle Teachers

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

By Jon Queally, staff writer 

January 12, 2013
Common Dreams


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:

 Diane Ravitch@DianeRavitch Support the Teachers of Seattle
wp.me/p2odLa-3CA 12 Jan 13 ReplyRetweetFavorite 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.

"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." 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

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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