NEA President: Seattle Teachers’ Stand Against Flawed Testing a “Defining Moment”
By Tim Walker
The boycott of the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized test by Seattle teachers has attracted national attention and an outpouring of support from educators, students, and parents across the country. In perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation, teachers at Garfield High on January 9 decided unanimously to refuse to administer the test to their students, saying it corrupts teaching and learning. Teachers at other Seattle-area schools have followed suit and joined the boycott.
The educators at Garfield High School have taken a courageous and important stand on behalf of their students, said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, who called the boycott ”a defining moment within the education profession.”
“I, along with 3 million educators across the country, proudly support our members’ efforts in saying ‘no’ to giving their students a flawed test that takes away from learning and is not aligned with the curriculum,” Van Roekel said. “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.”
In a public letter of support released on Monday, more than 180 educators and renowned experts in the field of education, including Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol, called the action a “blow against the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.”
Dr. Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing also endorsed the boycott. “Children across the U.S. suffer from far too much standardized testing that is misused to judge students, teachers and schools. We applaud Garfield High educators who refused to administer these useless exams and urge others to join in,” Dr. Neill said.
The MAP test is a computer-based test administered across the state of Washington to measure reading and math skills. Garfield High faculty say the test is a waste of time and resources, and robs students of valuable instructional time.
“They are frustrated that the test doesn’t line up with the curriculum, doesn’t provide feedback they can use to teach their students and ties up the computer labs and libraries for students who are not taking the test,” explained Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association. For these and other reasons, Garfield faculty strongly object to the MAP test being used in any way for teacher evaluation.
Garfield teachers are not opposed to accountability, said teacher Jesse Hagopian. In an op-ed for The Seattle Times, Hagopian wrote: “We do insist on a form of assessment relevant to what we’re teaching in the classroom.Garfield’s teachers are preparing students for the real-life tests they will face, and reject the computer multiple-choice rituals that fail to measure grade-level content — not to mention character, commitment, courage or talent.”
While the boycott on Seattle may mark the first time teachers have refused to administer a standardized test, the backlash against high-stakes testing has been percolating in other parts of the country. Parents, teachers, and school boards have been voicing loud disapproval of what they see as deeply flawed accountability systems that rob students of actual learning and tangle up teachers’ performance evaluations with unreliable test scores. Nine-hundred districts in Texas, for example, have adopted a resolution opposing high-stakes standardized tests. In 2012, superintendents of several high-performing districts, saying tests were “strangling” their schools, urged lawmakers to scale back testing. Several large districts in Florida, including Broward County, signed onto to similar pacts.
Whether it’s in Florida, Texas, or Washington, educators, parents, and other stakeholders want the same thing: better student assessments. But a system that is designed to help all students depends on teachers, parents, students and communities having a stronger voice in this conversation. This type of assessment also isn’t done in one day or a few times over the course of a year, says NEA President Van Roekel.
“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.”