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Standardized test backlash: Some Seattle teachers just say 'no'

Resistance to standardized tests has been simmering for years, but now a group of Seattle teachers is in open revolt. No longer will they administer the tests, they say, citing a waste of public resources.

By Dean PatonCorrespondent / January 11, 2013

Students walk out of the lunchroom past a poster urging preparing for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessments System (MCAS) tests, in this March 1999 file photo. Massachusetts students who don't pass the test don't graduate.

John Nordell/Staff/File

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Seattle

(Updated Saturday, Jan. 12, at 1:30 p.m. EST)

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Forty-five minutes after school let out Thursday afternoon, 19 teachers here at Seattle's Garfield High School worked their way to the front of an already-crowded classroom, then turned, leaned their backs against the wall of whiteboards, and fired the first salvo of open defiance against high-stakes standardized testing in America's public schools.

To a room full of TV cameras, reporters, students, and colleagues, the teachers announced their refusal to administer a standardized test that ninth-graders across the district are mandated to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test – for Measures of Academic Progress – it is intended to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math.

First one teacher, then another, and then more stepped forward to charge that the test wastes time, money, and dwindling school resources. It is also used to evaluate teacher quality.

“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” said Kris McBride, academic dean and testing coordinator at Garfield High. “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.”

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Garfield’s civil yet disobedient faculty appears to be the first group of teachers nationally to defy district edicts concerning a standardized test, but the backlash against high-stakes testing has been percolating in other parts of the country.

  • The New York State Principals association recently issued a scathing letter, nearly four pages of “unintended negative consequences” it claims such tests foment.
  • In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr has called for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing.
  • In north Texas last year, superintendents of several high-performing school districts signed a letter to state officials and lawmakers saying high-stakes standardized testing is “strangling our public schools.” As of Jan. 8, 880 districts that educate more than 4.4 million Texas students have adopted a resolution opposing these tests. 

“This high-stakes testing – there needs to be a moratorium on it, because it’s out of control,” says Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, Long Island, N.Y. “None of these tests really have anything to do with curriculum. Maybe they have a little bit to do with math. But that’s it.”

Dr. Burris co-authored the letter for the New York State principals. On Dec. 31, she started a petition in New York opposing high-stakes testing. In 10 days, she says, 5,500 administrators, teachers, and parents have signed it.

“Parents are stressed. Teachers are stressed. Kids are stressed by these tests more than parents,” Burris says. “And when you tie teachers’ evaluations to these tests, the teachers end up focusing their lessons on the tests. And that’s starting to destroy elementary education.”

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