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January 29, 2013 3 min read
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| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Seattle Teachers Boycott Tests

The Seattle teachers’ test boycott is attracting growing support and attention. But where it’s going is an open question.

In a nutshell, teachers at Garfield High School have essentially gone on strike against the district’s Measures of Academic Progress tests, a computer-adaptive tool used to size up how students are learning and adjust instruction.

The boycott has spread to nearby Orca K-8 school, and other schools have signed statements of support. FairTest, a national group opposed to standardized testing, is circulating a petition in support of the Garfield teachers. A clutch of well-known commentators, including education historian Diane Ravitch and urban-schools author Jonathan Kozol, joined in a statement of support as well.

Then came the two national teachers’ unions. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten posted a letter of support on the union’s Facebook page. Now the National Education Association is cheering the Garfield teachers, too.

How far the ripples will spread from Seattle remains to be seen. The Garfield teachers are not boycotting the state tests for accountability. District officials warned last week that teachers will be disciplined if they refuse to give district-required tests, the Associated Press reported. One can only guess that this would pale in comparison to the repercussions from any mass movement to boycott state accountability tests.

The teachers have been quoted as saying the map takes too much time away from instruction, produces erratic outcomes, and is not aligned to what they’re teaching.

— Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | District Dossier

Principals to Be Rated on Student Progress

Starting this school year, student-achievement gains will count toward principal evaluations in the Chicago public schools, the district announced this month. The evaluations will be based half on “student growth measures"—including graduation rates, attendance, and “some assessments"—and half on principal practice, according to a press release.

Illinois requires student growth to constitute at least 25 percent of a principal’s evaluation starting this school year and at least 30 percent in 2014 and beyond.

The emphasis on student achievement is in line with the district’s teacher-evaluation system, said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a press release. Teacher evaluation was one point of contention in the teachers’ strike in Chicago earlier this school year.

The online education news site Catalyst Chicago reported mixed responses to the new evaluation systems. Some principals say the system is late to be unveiled and that 50 percent seems a high figure; others say they are pleased that the student-growth component is not dependent on a single assessment.

National leaders have also expressed some concern.

“Fifty percent is in my mind not supported by any research, any place,” said Richard A. Flanary, a deputy executive director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

— Jaclyn Zubrzycki

| NEWS | Beyond School

High School Credit Anytime, Anywhere

High school students in Providence, R.I., may be eligible to receive school credit for learning experiences outside the classroom through a new initiative that will award “digital badges” for a range of extra-curricular activities.

The Providence After School Alliance launched the project with support from the Mozilla Foundation.

Digital badges are virtual commemorative patches that recognize work, activities, or tasks, much like Girl and Boy Scout badges, only digitized. The idea is to encourage connections between in- and out-of-school learning and get students more engaged in school by recognizing how their interests and pastimes can be academically enriching.

The initiative, called the Hub, will award students digital badges for out-of-school academic work that can then be considered for credit by the local school system.

The alliance won funding through a grant competition sponsored by Mozilla, a nonprofit that supports open-source Web content and the Firefox Web browser, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

— Nora Fleming

A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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