The Garfield High School teacher's strike against ineffective student standardized testing is gaining traction: At a press conference this morning, supporters announced that two Seattle schools have joined the boycott of Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) exams on the grounds that the tests are a stupid gauge of student progress in the subjects of math and reading, and are unfairly used to evaluate teachers.
"We've seen that boycotts are effective in the pursuit of justice," said Garfield teacher and boycott leader Jesse Hagopian while drawing parallels between the teachers' pursuit of a more valuable and equitable testing system and Martin Luther King Jr.'s own celebrated push for equality. "They say we should wait for the process to unfold. That we’re disrupting the process. We’re reminded on MLK day that those seeking justice are always told to slow down, to wait. We’ve come to find the words wait almost always mean never. This is about a city that is in revolt against a test that is harming our children... We want to use the boycott in the struggle against the MAP tests."
Garfield High teachers and other boycott supporters are hosting anti-MAP rally for Wednesday, January 23 at 4:00 p.m. at the John Standford Center (2445 3rd Ave S) to continue their full-court press on the Seattle School District.
The boycott is also gaining national attention: Garfield High staff announced that a slew of prominent national educators, including former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, education author Jonathan Kozol, and even noted critic and philosopher Noam Chomsky, have signed a letter supporting the boycott of MAP tests.
Calling such testing "overused and overrated," the letter notes that "no student's intellectual process can be reduced to a single number."
Since Garfield teachers announced the boycott on January 10, two Seattle middle schools—Columbia city's Orca K-8 and Ballard's Salmon Bay K-8—have followed suit. (To clarify: A Salmon Bay teacher tells me that the elementary K-5 teachers at the school voted nearly unanimously to support the boycott, while teachers in the 6-8 grades have not yet voted on the issue.)
Several other schools and education groups, among them Franklin High School, Ballard High School, West Seattle High School, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Seattle teacher's union, have voted to support the boycott by urging Seattle school superintendent Jose Banda to stop administering the tests district-wide, and not retaliate against the teachers who've chosen to boycott.
Superintendent Banda only assumed his position as head of Seattle's school district last July. This marks the first serious test of his leadership, and as such, all eyes are on on him to see if he embraces the contentious administration/teacher relationship that defined former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's reign (incidentally, Goodloe-Johnson ushered in MAP testing), or if Banda will show he's willing to work with teachers by arranging a meeting and discussing their concerns.
A spokesperson for the public schools wasn't available for comment (Happy MLK Day!), but the signs don't look promising: Banda has urged Seattle principals to force teachers to administer the tests by February 22 and, so far, hasn't returned emails from boycott leaders requesting a meeting.
"I haven't heard from Banda," said Hagopian, while adding that school board members have also been unwilling to meet.
Critics of the MAP tests point out that the tests, which are administered up to three times a year, are not taken seriously by students (they're neither a graduation requirement nor a course requirement). In fact, they're piled on top of three-to-five other standardize tests that high school students must taken in order to graduate. Critics also note that MAP tests' margin of error is often greater than students' expected progress, and that the test has been re-purposed as a tool for evaluating teachers and placing students in select courses, against the tests' original intent and despite years of teacher objections.
And since the tests are basically more useless than male nipples, they can be struck from the curriculum with little fuss. "I don’t think the district is going to be in a bind to not administer the test between now and end of the year," said teacher's union president Jonathan Knapp. "All we have to do is tweak things."
"I teach students how to look at data," explained Ballard High science teacher Noam Gundle. "Some data is more relevant than others. Every single research study done on MAP shows that it is junk science. We’re doing a vast disservice to students to make them take a test that results in data that is completely irrelevant. Students know it’s a joke. They don’t take it seriously."
"I have opted my two kids out of this test," said parent and Orca teacher Matt Carter. "We’ve let parents know it’s their right to opt out of any test that the district gives. Now parents are uniting with the best interests of their students."