The faculty of Garfield High School unanimously voted not to administer a standardized test mandated by the Seattle School District, a bold move that puts pressure on the District to rethink the test’s place in Seattle classrooms. Administration of the MAP test was scheduled to begin next week.
Three teachers abstained from voting, and the rest voted to make the stand against a test they say is an ineffective distraction that neither helps students nor provides an accurate assessment of teacher performance. None voted against the idea.
“Over and over, teachers say that this is not what we’re teaching in our classrooms,” said Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield High teacher who has taken an active role in opposing the test.
“Students don’t have anything attached to this in terms of their grades,” he said. “Many get bored and just start pushing buttons.” This makes their scores on the computer-administered test go down, hurting the teachers whose performance is supposedly being assessed.
But beyond criticisms of the test itself, administering it two or three times a year consumes a lot of precious time and resources and “monopolizes computer labs for weeks at a time.” This is particularly bad for the students who do not have access to a computer and Internet at home and depend on the school lab.
Now, Hagopian and the Garfield faculty are not against assessment, but those tests should be more related to the materials they actually cover during class.
“Portfolios and performance-based assessments work very well,” said Hagopian.
He is hopeful the Seattle School District, with Superintendent Jose Banda now in charge, will rethink the test. The MAP was instituted under former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who passed away less than two years after stepping down in 2011.
“I really hope that they would want the best for all their students,” he said.
The Seattle School District issued a statement defending the test and saying they expect the teachers to administer it. However, they also said they are reassessing its use:
Seattle Public Schools expects our teachers to administer all required tests, pursuant to our policies and procedures. Last fall, during an annual report to the Board on Nov. 28, it was agreed that the District would review the effectiveness of MAP testing. We look forward to hearing from our principals and teachers as part of that process. A report back to the Board is expected to be presented in the spring.
Though he has heard rumblings from faculty around the District, Hagopian said he is not aware of teachers at any other Seattle school taking such a stand.
“But I welcome them,” he said.
Here is the press release from the Garfield faculty explaining their reasons:
In perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School will announce this afternoon their refusal to administer a standardized test that students in other high schools across the district are scheduled to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test, it purports to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math. The teachers contend that it wastes time, money, and precious school resources.
“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,” says Kris McBride, who serves as Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator at Garfield. “Additionally, 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.”
McBride explained that the MAP test, which stands for Measure of Academic Progress, is administered two to three times each year to 9th grade students as well as those receiving extra support services. The students are told the test will have no impact on their grades or class standing, and, because of this, students tend to give it little thought to the test and hurry through it. In addition, there seems to be little overlap between what teachers are expected to teach (state and district standards) and what is measured on the test.
Despite this flaw, McBride states, results of the MAP tests will be used by district officials to help evaluate the effectiveness of instructors who give the test. “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,” she says.
Refusing to administer a district-mandated test is not a decision the school’s teachers made casually, or without serious internal discussion.
“Those of us who give this test have talked about it for several years,” explained Mallory Clarke, Garfield’s Reading Specialist. “When we heard that district representatives themselves reported that the margin of error for this test is greater than an individual student’s expected score increase, we were appalled!”
After the affected faculty decided unanimously to make a stand against the MAP test, they told the rest of Garfield’s faculty of their decision. In a December 19 vote, the rest of the school’s teachers voted overwhelmingly to support their colleagues’ refusal to administer the test. Not a single teacher voted against the action. Four abstained from voting. the rest voted to support it.
“We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” said student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry. “I know when I took the test last year, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class– and we have great classes here at Garfield. By the second time I had to take the MAP, I just went through the motions, did it as quickly as I could, so I could do something more useful with my time.” History teacher Jesse Hagopian said, “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.” Hagopian added “This especially hurts students who don’t have a computer at home.”
The $4 million MAP test was purchased by Seattle Public Schools during the tenure of former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who left her position in 2011 and sadly passed away in 2012. Goodloe-Johnson sat on the board of directors of Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the company that markets the MAP test. At the time, some pointed out this potential conflict of interest for Goodloe-Johnson, but the district went ahead with the purchase nonetheless. NWEA itself warns that districts should not use the map test to evaluate teachers. We teachers of Garfield High School believe that the NWEA is right—this test should not be used to evaluate teachers. For secondary teachers the test cannot provide useful information about students’ skills and progress. Still worse, this test should not rob students of precious class time away from instruction. “We believe the negative aspects of the MAP test so outweigh the positive ones that we are willing to take this step,” said Language Arts teacher Adam Gish.