Seattle boycott draws national attention
Ballard teachers join in the fight against the district mandated MAP test
February 7, 2013
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Led by history teacher Jesse Hagopian, the teachers of Garfield High School published a letter on January 10 that would soon echo across the country. Both in the letter and at a press conference, they declared they were going to refuse to administer the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized test.
Becoming the first anywhere in the nation to do such a thing they stated, “We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school. We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school…”
Science teachers Noam Gundle, India Carlson and Eric Muhs led Ballard High School in becoming one among eight different Seattle Public Schools who have either publicly offered support or joined Garfield in the boycott movement. BHS teachers were among the first to offer solidarity, publishing a letter of reinforcement on January 11.
However, Gundle, Carlson, and Muhs did not stop there. On February 5, Ballard became the fourth school to declare a boycott, joining Garfield High School, Columbia City’s Orca K-8, and Chief Sealth High School. The 28 BHS teachers who said they will boycott the exam became among the ranks of over 100 teachers from around the district. Franklin High School, West Seattle, Salmon Bay K-8, and Graham Hill Elementary have all offered letters of support but haven’t declared a refusal to administer the test.
As of the afternoon of February 6, Ballard’s letter has received 40 teacher signatures under the words, “We will no longer agree to support the test and we will no longer send our students to be tested… We believe in real learning opportunities. Assessments can be helpful, but the MAP test has little benefit to students…”
Unlike many schools in the district, though, the MAP test will not return to BHS until May. Test dates vary by school with Ballard concluding its winter session of the test in January before the movement gained large attention. Garfield High School, however, is to complete their winter testing by February 22.
What is the MAP test?
The MAP is administered two to three times each year to students in kindergarten through ninth grade in fall, winter and spring sessions. The content of the test varies by grade but is given in mathematics and language arts at the older levels.
Seattle Public Schools purchased the MAP test from a company called the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in 2008 for nearly $4 million, under the late Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, who stepped down from her position in 2011, sat on the board of directors of NWEA at the time of the purchase and failed to acknowledge the conflict of interest.
Schools have supported their opposition to the MAP test with a variety of reasons. First, many point out the lost of instructional time and how the resources of clogged libraries and computer labs are shut off from non-test-takers.
Others focus on the lack of effort shown from students who take the test. Unlike the HSPE, for example, the MAP is not required for graduation. “It’s flawed just in the sense that students continuously ask me whether or not it’s for grade,” testing coordinator Sid Glass said.
Various students and teachers share similar opinions. “Unless you are the one over achieving kid, you are not going to put any effort into it,” Junior Isabelle Hyatt said.
With a high margin of error for high school students who participate in the test, teachers also question the validity of the MAP statistics. Upon completing the test, each student is given a score that reflects their performance with students’ scores expected to grow a certain amount between each period. However, for a high school student the margin of error for the test is great than the expected growth.
Such a large margin of error means there is no way for a teacher to know if the numbers they are looking at fairly represent a student or are just a mistake. “I would really like to be able to use the data but… The numbers are theoretically useful but just way too specific,” Language Arts teacher Sara Hendrickson said.
Despite the flaws of the MAP, employees across the district are evaluated by their students’ performances on the test. At Ballard High School math teacher Ysaias Guerrero is the only teacher who is evaluated by the test, though. As stated by Guerrero, this is due to the fact that out of nearly 90 teachers he is the sole instructor to have taught at least two consecutive years of a class the MAP is administered in.
“I don’t like the idea that it turns out within this whole staff there is only one person who ended up being rated,” Guerrero said. “It doesn’t really show what I teach, how I teach or what is coming from the students.”
The head of the Language Arts department, Joseph Kelly said that despite having “no issues with a rigorous teacher evaluation” he believes that having “one teacher evaluated by this totally flawed test is absurdly inequitable.”
Many question the validity of evaluating teachers on a test that is not aligned with their curriculum. Not only is the test not tied to the Common Core State Standards but teachers also have no access to the content of past MAP tests.
Movement Gains Support
Seattle has quickly become the center of a national conversation about standardized testing. Teachers’ unions, education leaders, and noted scholars from across the country, such as Noam Chomsky and former assistant US secretary of education Diane Ravitch, are even sending statements of solidarity.
Students have also shown they are not afraid to get involved as both the Garfield ASB and Seattle Student Senate published letters of support. On the morning of January 23, the Ballard Student Senate, which is made up of two representative from each second period, almost unanimously voted to support the boycott.
Despite not administering the test, Gundle said, “It means something to stand in solidarity with teachers who have to administer it.”
Muhs shared similar opinions and enthusiasm. “As an employee, at some point your conscious tells you to do something that’s right and not necessarily what you’re ordered to do,” he said.
What is to Come
As for the future of the MAP test, that is something those involved in the boycott cannot agree.
Some argue to revise the test, some say to get rid of it, while even others propose evaluating students in entirely new ways (for example, graded portfolios of student work). “Numbers are not a representation of who a student is,” Gundle said.Many also predict the boycott could lead to a strike as teacher contracts go up for negotiation this summer. “I don’t think that people should be as quick to resolve issues through protests and boycotts,” Principal Keven Wynkoop said.
On January 23, Paul Apostle, the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, sent out a letter to all district principals warning that “state law requires that teachers implement a course of study in accordance with District directives.” Reflecting on the Wynkoop said regardless of personal feelings about the test, “If that’s the direction of the district and the direction of the school, we need to follow through with it.”
In a press release on February 4, Superintendent Jose Banda asserted that the Garfield’s winter MAP test were to be given by the administration if teachers were going to continue to resist. Students displayed solidarity with the actions of their teachers arriving on February 5 with emails and signed documents from their parents, permitting them to opt out of the test. At least 400 students were scheduled to take the reading test but only 97 participated.
Advised by teachers and fellow students, many of the students who participated invalidated their scores by randomly clicking buttons and completing the test in under 15 minutes.
“I was hoping we could come up with some kind of compromise or some solution for us to move forward in a collaborative spirit,” Banda told press. He also stated that it is unknown if the district will comply to the “10-day, unpaid suspension” originally laid out in Apostle’s letter as a consequence for boycotting teachers.
Banda has scheduled for a task force to meet on February 7 to discuss the topic and assures that a decision will be made sometime in the spring.
As for now, an entire nation stands poised, waiting to see what will happen with the historic boycott. Regardless of the outcome, though, the words of Hagopian at a press conference on January 21 ring throughout the city’s ears. Hagopian addressed the crowd on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday with the statement, “Those seeking justice are always told to slow down.”