By Ben Velderman
SEATTLE – A high school in the Seattle school district is fast becoming ground zero in the teacher unions’ war against standardized testing.
Since December, teachers at Seattle Public Schools’ Garfield High School have refused to administer a district-required test to their students. They’ve argued that the test is too flawed and takes too much class time.
During a Monday press conference, Garfield High teachers decided to use Martin Luther King Jr. Day to link their boycott to the civil rights struggle. Teacher Adam Gish quoted from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and said that “choosing to break the law by not giving this test is a necessary choice.”
Teacher union officials and activists throughout the nation have expressed support for the boycott.
But the superintendent of Seattle schools is quickly losing patience. On Monday he reminded teachers that the test is required and they are expected to administer it. He said they would be welcome to voice their concerns about the test next month when the school board reviews all student tests.
At issue is the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), a test that Seattle students are required to take. The computer-based test – which is used in districts throughout the U.S. – is designed to gauge a student’s skill level in math and reading, and determine if he or she requires extra help or a more challenging curriculum.
Seattle teachers are given the results to help guide their teaching. The MAP test results have no direct bearing on a teacher’s performance evaluation, the Seattle Times reports.
But teacher union leaders and supporters from across the nation aren’t letting those facts stop them from joining in the Garfield High boycott.
Since the Garfield High teachers “announced their (MAP test) boycott nearly two weeks ago, they have been hailed as heroes by those concerned about the overuse and misuse of standardized tests, although the teachers have been careful to say they’re not protesting all tests, just this one,” reports the Seattle Times.
Public school “luminaries” such as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and union apologist Diane Ravitch have signed a petition in support of the boycotting teachers, reports KING5.com.
Celebrated leftist professor Noam Chomsky has also registered his support, along with the American Federation of Teachers, the San Diego Education Association, the Iowa Education Association, and the Seattle Education Association.
The Garfield High boycott appears to be growing. Teachers at two other Seattle schools are threatening to defy school leaders by refusing to administer the MAP test. Educators at six other areas schools have “taken positions in support of the boycott,” reports the DemocraticUnderground.com.
“This movement is just beginning,” Seattle Public Schools teacher India Carlson told DemocraticUnderground.com. “We will be in this struggle until we win quality assessment for all our students.”
Exaggerations and falsehoods
The boycotting teachers’ gripes against the MAP test are that it uses too much class time and its measurements are too imprecise to use in teacher evaluations.
Those complaints are a mix of exaggerations and outright falsehoods.
According to media reports, the MAP test takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete. That’s hardly an exorbitant amount of time for a test that, according to the Times, is designed “to find where students’ skills lie rather than just (to) determine whether a fourth-grader can pass a fourth-grade test.”
There is some validity to Garfield High teachers’ concern that the MAP test offers diminished returns for high school students. Seattle school officials have already decided that high school freshmen who have passed algebra will no longer be required to take the math component of the test, the Times reports.
Even before the Garfield High uprising, the Seattle school board voted at its Nov. 28 meeting to conduct a thorough review of all district tests, including MAP. The Garfield High boycott seems even more over the top in light of that fact.
And despite the oft-repeated charge that MAP is being used to determine a teacher’s classroom performance, the Seattle Times reports that the test has no official role in the district’s teacher evaluations.
However, if the MAP test shows low student growth in a particular classroom, it could trigger “a closer look at” a teacher’s performance, the Times reports.
Why would any true professional object to administrators taking “a closer look” at his or her performance? There have been no reports of any Seattle teacher being disciplined or fired due to their students’ MAP results, and any such actions would violate the teacher union contract.
‘Everything is built on test scores’
None of the Garfield High teachers’ objections justify all the energy and angst that’s going into their fight against this harmless, non-binding test.
What’s really going on here?
A recent conference at New York University offers an important clue.
During a Dec. 4, 2012 “Change the Stakes” meeting, hosted by domestic terrorist- turned- educator Bill Ayers, one participant took the floor and explained why unions and public school apologists need to destroy the credibility of standardized tests.
“It’s the only way – it removes the currency from the ed reform movement,” the unidentified female speaker said in a video of the meeting. “That is their currency. Everything is built on test scores. And if test scores are removed, then what are they going to do?”
It seems obvious that the education establishment would love to see Seattle’s MAP test turmoil grow into a national teacher uprising against standardized testing. That’s why union heavyweights from across the U.S. are attempting to make a local problem a national issue.
Their strategy is simple – get rid of the tests and they will no longer have to worry about calls for more teacher accountability.
Seattle Superintendent José Banda seems ready to end the boycott nonsense. On the same day of the Garfield High teachers’ press conference, Banda sent a letter to all of the district’s employees, informing them that the MAP test “remains a required element of our overall student testing process,” and that all school employees are expected “to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations to administer this test in a timely manner.”
Banda noted that principals and teachers will have an opportunity to have their views of the MAP test made known in February, as part of the district’s ongoing review of all student tests.
“This is the appropriate venue to share concerns and to have an in-depth discussion about the test,” Banda wrote.
If any Seattle teachers cannot follow Banda’s reasonable orders, they should be quickly dismissed from their positions with the district. The Seattle school board alone has the authority over how the district operates. That privilege does not belong to some band of rogue teachers who are trying to impress their union friends in other states.
This absurd boycott has already gotten out of hand. If Seattle’s school leaders are smart, they will act quickly and decisively to take control of their classrooms. If they allow this to build, it has the potential to grow into a national movement and cause disruption in classrooms across this land.