NEA Supports Seattle Teachers Protesting Standardized Test

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — January 23, 2013 3 min read
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The National Education Association has come out in support of a group of teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle who refused to administer the MAP, or Measures of Academic Progress, test, a computer-based adaptive assessment, to their students last week. NEA president Dennis Van Roekel called the teachers’ decision “heroic” and said it marks a “defining moment within the education profession.”

The Garfield teachers voted unanimously not to administer the test, which students take in addition to the state’s standardized test. Here’s an op-ed from teacher Jesse Hagopian explaining his colleagues’ decision. The Seattle Education Association held a rally to support these teachers today, and the Seattle Times reports that the teachers have received a signed letter of support from notable education figures, including authors Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch, and from parent and teacher groups around the country. The Times also reports that teachers from a number of other local schools have joined the protest.

Complaints about high-stakes testing are not new. But this is the first time (that I can discover) an entire school has refused to administer such tests.

Seattle superintendent Jose Banda is standing firm on the value of the tests and the teachers’ legal obligation to administer them, saying that “for many of our teachers and principals, the MAP assessment provides critical data to help screen the most vulnerable students for additional academic support and more personalized attention and to measure their growth and improvement over time.” The district also announced that teachers who have refused to administer the test face suspension, according to a local news blog.

But the district will evaluate its testing policies: Banda held a press conference on the protests today at which he announced the creation of a Joint Task Force on Assessments and Measuring Progress.

The Seattle Times article—which has a very thorough description of the test and of the teachers’ complaints—quotes teacher Rachel Eells on her growing disillusionment with the MAP testing, which she describes as a “rough diagnostic tool,” especially for high schoolers, but which could trigger closer attention to teachers’ performance on evaluations. The district has said that the teachers have misconceptions about the test, which has been in use in Seattle for five years, or may not be fully trained in interpreting its results.

The Garfield teachers have been clear that they are criticizing this particular test, not testing in general, but, as the NEA’s statement indicates, some foresee a ripple effect that could extend far beyond MAP. Edweek Commentary blogger Walt Gardner predicted last week that the Garfield teachers’ stance would be more significant than state-level movements in California and Texas to reduce the number of tests students are taking. And here’s a New York City teacher who frames the debate over MAP as a fight over the future of the teaching profession.

Here’s NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s statement in full:

Today is a defining moment within the education profession as educators at Seattle's Garfield High School take a heroic stand against using the MAP test as a basis for measuring academic performance and teacher effectiveness. I, along with 3 million educators across the country, proudly support their efforts in saying 'no' to giving their students a flawed test that takes away from learning and is not aligned with the curriculum. Garfield High School educators are receiving support from the parents of Garfield students. They have joined an ever-growing chorus committed to one of our nation's most critical responsibilities—educating students in a manner that best serves the realization of their fullest potential. Educators across the country know what's best for their students, and it's no different for our members in Seattle. We know that having well-designed assessment tools can help students evaluate their own strengths and needs, and help teachers improve. This type of assessment isn't done in one day or three times a year. It's done daily, and educators need the flexibility to collaborate with their colleagues and the time to evaluate on-going data to make informed decisions about what's best for students. If we want a system that is designed to help all students, we must allow educators, parents, students and communities to be a part of the process and have a stronger voice in this conversation as they demand high-quality assessments that support student learning. Off-the-shelf assessments that are not aligned with the curriculum or goals of the school are not the answer."

As a disclosure, I worked at a school that used the MAP test, and found it to be somewhat useful but certainly time- and resource-consuming. The test was administered three times a year. Each time, for several days, most of the school’s supply of laptops and hours of class time were dedicated to the test, which, in my experience, produced numbers that often lined up with my understanding of students’ abilities...but were just as often baffling. (Why did Tony score a 209 in the fall, a 230 in the winter, and a 210 in the spring? How much did he learn? What narrative am I supposed to share with his parent?) Because of its design, some students would take minutes and others, hours, to complete the test. I’m personally curious to see where these protests go.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.