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.
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At Montgomery County Public Schools, America’s 17th largest district, Dr. Starr says the conflicting demands of the No Child Left Behind Act and the emerging Common Core State Standards Initiative (sanctioned by 46 states and the District of Columbia) are overwhelming districts, teachers, and resources.Skip to next paragraph
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“It’s not because I’m opposed to all standardized testing. Standardized tests do have a place,” he says. “But more and more folks are starting to recognize these standardized tests are not designed to do what we’re being asked to do with them. They’re a very narrow measure.”
Starr says many standardized tests detract from teachers’ ability to prepare students effectively: “This isn’t about saying, ‘Do away with all standardized testing.’ It’s about saying, ‘Do away with tests that are not aligned with what kids will actually need to do in the 21st century.’ ”
Starr’s words could well have been uttered here at Garfield.
“In 26 years of teaching,” says Kit McCormick, who teaches English, “this is the first time I’ve said, ‘I’m not giving this test.’ It’s not that I think my ninth-graders should not be tested. I want my ninth-graders to be tested. I teach to the Common Core standards, and I am happy to teach those standards. Bottom line is: The test is not useful to my students.”
Ms. McBride, the academic dean, said Garfield teachers “have a myriad of reasons for not administering the MAP test,” including “no evidence” the test is aligned with state and local curriculum, that it’s “filled with things that aren’t a part of the curriculum at all,” and that the district uses student test scores to grade teachers, even though the company that markets the test says it should not be used to assess teacher effectiveness.
“We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” said student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry. “I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class – and we have great classes here at Garfield. I know students who just go through the motions when taking the test, just did it as quickly as possible so they could do something more useful with their time.”
When someone asked the teachers if they were worried about what lessons students might take away from their collective defiance of the district, Mario Shauvette, chairman of the math department, stepped forward. “I’m teaching by example,” he said. “If I don’t step up now, who will? I’m taking charge of what I do here.”
On Friday, 25 teachers from Ballard High School, in northwest Seattle, signed a letter in support of the Garfield staff, listing many of the same complaints and saying they “support statements and actions of our colleagues at Garfield High School surrounding the MAP test. Specifically, the MAP test program throughout Seattle Public Schools ought to be shut down immediately. It has been and continues to be an embarrassing mistake. Continuing it even another day, let alone another month or year or decade, will not turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.”
Officials from Seattle Public Schools noted that they agreed in November to look closer at all standardized testing policies, including the MAP test, and to report back to the school board this spring. “As part of this process, we will be inviting teachers and principals to attend meetings to discuss MAP testing,” says Lesley Rogers, the district’s communications officer. “We believe this is the appropriate venue to share concerns and to have an in-depth and productive discussion about the test.
“In the meantime,” she adds, “we expect our classroom teachers to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations to administer this test. If a teacher chooses not to administer the MAP test, we will evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis.”
The teachers know they’re violating district policy, as well as their union contract. They realize consequences could be severe.
“But the people down at district headquarters are wise people, good people,” said history teacher Jesse Hagopian. “We all want what’s best for our students, and the faculty here is confident we can work together and come up with ways of evaluating our kids that are a lot more effective than this test.”