Garfield High School teachers boycott administration of state-mandated assessment

SEATTLE’S GARFIELD HIGH School teachers made the momentous decision in January to refuse to administer the state-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test — and it began with a discussion in the teachers’ lounge.

“We talked about how poor of an assessment the MAP test was and then at an all-staff meeting we debated if we should take this drastic step of refusing to administer this test,” said Garfield history teacher Jesse Hagopian.

“The students were seeing questions not on their curriculum so evaluations were tied to a test that doesn’t reflect what we’re teaching in the classroom. It was administered three times a year in addition to five other tests, and it monopolized the computer lab for weeks at a time, so if I assigned a research paper, only kids with connectivity at home could do it.”

Several weeks after the boycott, Hagopian took part in a Tele-Town Hall meeting with Darcie Blackburn, a first-grade teacher at Sheridan Elementary in San Francisco and Monty Neill, executive director of The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

The panelists described how the movement against standardized tests is growing. Hagopian said the Garfield Parent-Teacher-Student Association unanimously voted to support the teachers. Other Seattle schools joined the boycott, and when Seattle Superintendent José Banda told principals to administer the test anyway, parents opted their kids out or the kids refused to take the test, making only about 180 out of 800 tests valid.

About 5,000 people signed a letter supporting the teachers, including former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, and noted activist Noam Chomsky. CFT President Joshua Pechthalt wrote a letter on behalf of the Federation expressing the hope that this boycott could start a national dialogue about “the testing mania that has victimized students and the women and men who work with them.”

That’s what’s happening said Neill, citing examples of professors joining forces in Massachusetts, principals protesting in New York, and even Texas legislators standing up to standardized tests.

Gary Ravani, president of the CFT EC/K-12 Council, says the Seattle test boycott is reverberating throughout the nation.

“It’s a culmination of frustration about testing and data driving instruction, rather than guiding instruction,” Ravani explained. “Putting data in the driver’s seat has had a negative effect on student learning and narrowed the curriculum in dangerous ways.”

Blackburn, thinks San Francisco is heading in Garfield’s direction. “We’re creating work diaries,” said Blackburn, who is also co-chair of the Elementary Division of United Educators of San Francisco. “We’re laying out exactly what happens during the instructional day and tracking all these hours that are taken up by something that doesn’t inform our instruction.”

Washington spends more than any other state on testing, Hagopian said — millions of dollars, which he pointed out could be funding after-school tutoring or reading coaches. And it isn’t just the tests that cost students and profit businesses.

“McGraw-Hill and Riverside and Pearson make test prep materials in an effort to boost scores,” Neill said. “It’s a big industry to sell these ancillary materials that actually damage the quality of education our children receive.”

Tele-Town Hall panelists called for solidarity with the Garfield teachers who Banda threatened with a 10-day suspension without pay. “We can’t let them pay the price on their own. We need to support them. Write letters, talk to others, and meet with policymakers to offer alternatives to standardized tests.”

CFT President Pechthalt concurred: “These flashes of resistance represent an emerging movement against market reforms and the CFT must be part of that effort.”

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

Seattle teachers are not alone—states take action

In Massachusetts, 130 education professors and researchers signed a letter of protest against the overreliance on standardized tests and their use in evaluating teachers. They said, standardized tests “provide only one indicator of student achievement, and their high-stakes uses produce ever-increasing incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, or even to cheat.”

In New York, principals signed a letter protesting evaluating teachers based on test scores and more than 8,000 parents and educators signed a petition opposing all high-stakes testing.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, Superintendent Joshua Starr issued a public statement calling for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing to “stop the insanity” of evaluating teachers according to student test scores because it is based on “bad science.”

In Texas, 800 school districts, representing more than 4 million students, signed a resolution saying standardized testing is bad for education, and 10,000 people mobilized in the streets against state standardized tests. The Texas Legislative House passed a preliminary budget with no funds allotted to standardized tests. GOP House Speaker Joe Straus said, “Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization. To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing: The Texas House has heard you.”

Take Action

>Go to scrapthemap.wordpress.com to tell the Seattle Public Schools Superintendent José L. Banda that you support the boycott and demand that the participating teachers receive no disciplinary action. Sign the online petitions to support teachers at Garfield High.

>Learn more at fairtest.org, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to preventing the misuse of standardized tests being administered in all divisions of education.