Seattle Teachers’ Test Boycott: Reading The Tea Leaves

By Catherine Gewertz — January 24, 2013 1 min read
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The Seattle teachers’ test boycott is attracting growing support and growing attention. But where it’s going remains an open question.

You can get a detailed summary of what’s up over at our District Dossier blog. But in a nutshell, teachers at Garfield High School have essentially gone on strike against the district’s MAP 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 a bunch of 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 like education historian Diane Ravitch, urban-schools author Jonathan Kozol and linguistic legend Noam Chomsky joined in a statement of support as well.

Then came the two national teachers unions. AFT president Randi Weingarten posted a letter of support on the union’s Facebook page (for those of you without access to Facebook, you can see Weingarten’s statement on Ravitch’s blog. Now the NEA has stepped up to cheer the Garfield teachers, too.

The AFT ramped up its criticism of standardized tests at its convention last summer, approving a resolution stating that tests should not be used to sanction students or teachers.

Clearly, the boycott touches nerves about standardized testing. How far the the ripples will spread from Seattle, though, remains to be seen. Note, also, that the tests Garfield teachers are boycotting are not the state tests for accountability. While there have been rumors that Seattle’s superintendent might suspend teachers who don’t administer the MAP, one can only guess that this would pale in comparison to the repercussions from any mass movement to boycott state accountability tests.

Garfield teachers have been quoted as saying they object to the MAP because of the time it takes away from instruction, its erratic outcomes, and its misalignment to what they’re teaching. They’ve said less, as far as I can tell, about the new role the MAP is now playing in teacher evaluations. It’s not a reach to see that teachers would be uneasy, to say the least, about being sized up in part based on a test in which they have no faith.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.