Why Seattle Teachers Are Getting National Attention
A group of local teachers has launched Seattle into a national conversation about standardized testing. A Garfield High School history teacher was interviewed on CNN, education leaders including Noam Chomsky and former assistant US secretary of education Diane Ravitch have come out in support of local teachers, and teachers' unions across the country are sending statements of solidarity. All because our teachers have flat-out refused to give a test.
On January 10, dozens of Garfield teachers announced that, "in perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation," they were universally refusing to administer the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized test, calling it "counterproductive" and a waste of "time, money, and precious school resources." Several other schools committed to boycotting the test as well; others sent public letters of support.
Their concerns are hard to refute. First, the MAP test—unlike other standardized tests students take here—is not aligned to state standards, meaning that it asks questions about concepts students haven't been taught and the state doesn't even expect them to be taught. Second, the test was instated by a previous superintendent, the late Maria Goodloe-Johnson, while she sat on the board of the company that sold the test—a conflict of interest she did not disclose at the time. Third, according to teachers, the gains high school students are expected to make in their scores are actually within the margin of error of the test's grading. And those are just the top three complaints.
Two weeks after the boycott began, the school district warned that teachers who failed to administer the exam by a February 22 deadline would be guilty of "insubordination" and potentially subject to a 10-day unpaid suspension.
That doesn't seem like a feasible threat, though: If teachers don't administer the test by the deadline, does the district plan to suspend entire schools' worth of teachers? The testing deadline will have passed, and besides, the substitute teachers association supports the boycott, too.
School district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel downplays the suspension letter as "routine" communication. For his part, superintendent José Banda says the MAP "provides critical data," but the district has provided little more explanation of its support for the exam.
The district's task force, including teachers and district administration, is now set to meet on February 7.
But it's not clear that teachers have a clear alternative to the MAP. Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield teacher who's been acting as a spokesman for his colleagues, says that while some support a replacement test better aligned with state curriculum, the district should also consider more holistic assessments (for example, graded portfolios of student work). They don't seem to be presenting a unified front, though. When teachers head into meetings next week, they'll need to pitch a reasonable alternative.