When Teachers Refuse the Tests
Courageous teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have voted unanimously to refuse to administer the district’s standardized tests this semester.
“Our teachers have come together and agree that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” said Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator Kris McBride yesterday.
“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.”
Garfield teachers were scheduled to administer the district-wide Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) to ninth graders in the first part of January. It is supposed to measure progress in reading and math, but teachers report it only wastes time and resources.
“What frustrates me about the MAP test is that the computer labs are monopolized for weeks by the MAP test, making research projects very difficult to assign,” said history teacher Jesse Hagopian. “This especially hurts students who don’t have a computer at home.”
The teachers also objected to a conflict of interest: when the district purchased the test for $4 million, the superintendent sat on the board of the very company that marketed it.
Students are told the test will have no impact on their grades, teachers said, so they tend to hurry through it.
Yet district officials use the test results to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. “Our teachers feel strongly that this type of evaluative tool is unfair based on the abundance of problems with the exam, the content, and the statistical insignificance of the students’ scores,” said McBride.
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“Data” has become the lifeblood of education reform.
Quantifiable results from standardized assessments now determine everything from a student’s graduation to a teacher’s employment status to the fate of whole schools and entire school systems.
But across the country, a growing number of parents are exercising their legal right to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests, in favor of other assessments (such as portfolios) that are more organically connected to genuine teaching and learning.
Because the stakes of these tests are so high, teachers have not dared practice any kind of test-related civil disobedience—until now.
A tremendous sword now hangs over these teachers’ necks. They will need our solidarity in the days and weeks ahead, if they are going to be able to stand strong and keep their jobs.
Unions and other organizations should send messages of support to the address below.
Garfield’s student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry expressed support for the action: “We really think our teachers are making the right decision. 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.”
Brian Jones is a teacher and activist in New York. He is a member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, No Struggle, No Progress. Solidarity messages may be sent to Jesse Hagopian at jesse_hagopian[at]yahoo[dot]com.