Scrap the MAP!

January 14, 2013

Jorge Torres and Dan Trocolli report on the decision of teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School to refuse to administer a punitive standardized test.

GARFIELD HIGH School teachers in Seattle have made a collective New Year's resolution to "scrap the MAP"--and support for their cause is growing.

The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) is a test implemented throughout the Seattle Public School District (SPSD) for three years. It is supposed to chart student academic growth in math and language arts.

Former superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson signed the $4 million contract for the test with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in 2009--while she also sat on the association's board of directors. This was undisclosed at the time, something which state auditors previously said was an ethics violation. The initial MAP test was purchased in a no-bid, non-competitive process.

The test has fallen under widespread and persistent criticism by teachers across the district who say the MAP isn't aligned with state standards they are expected to teach to. The MAP test also doesn't affect student grades or chances of graduation, which means students don't take the test seriously. This is particularly irksome to teachers because the MAP is used to calculate "student growth"--as a part of evaluating the effectiveness of the teachers who give the test.

Teachers at Garfield High School speak to reporters about their refusal to administer high-stakes tests
Teachers at Garfield High School speak to reporters about their refusal to administer high-stakes tests

"Our teachers have come together and agree that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress," explained Kris McBride, who serves as Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator at Garfield, in a statement. "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."

"Those of us who give this test have talked about [refusing to administer it] for several years," added Mallory Clarke, Garfield's reading specialist. "When we heard that district representatives themselves reported that the margin of error for this test is greater than an individual student's expected score increase, we were appalled!"

According to the Garfield teachers, even the NWEA warns that school districts should not use the MAP exam to evaluate teachers. In a statement, the teachers explained:

We teachers of Garfield High School believe that the NWEA is right--this test should not be used to evaluate teachers. For secondary teachers, the test cannot provide useful information about students' skills and progress. Still worse, this test should not rob students of precious class time away from instruction. "We believe the negative aspects of the MAP test so outweigh the positive ones that we are willing to take this step," said Language Arts teacher Adam Gish.

ON JANUARY 9, 19 Garfield High teachers held a press conference after school hours in a media- and supporter-packed classroom, where they announced they would refuse to administer the MAP. The decision was made after a nearly unanimous vote of teaching staff at the high school.

Support quickly sprang up around the district and the country, from the Garfield Parent Teacher Association to Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of Education-turned-outspoken opponent of corporate school "reform."

Students also expressed their support for the teachers. Garfield High student body President Obadiah Stephens-Terry said in a statement:

We really think our teachers are making the right decision. 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, did it as quickly as possible so that they could do something more useful with their time.

On January 11, teachers at nearby Ballard High School signed a letter in support of their Garfield colleagues, with 25 Ballard teachers joining the pledge to refuse to give the MAP test.

The district has said it will decide on disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis for teachers who do not administer the MAP test. In the coming days and weeks, the level of public support teachers receive for taking this courageous stand will be key to making sure they are not subject to punishment by the district.

Social Equality Educators, a rank-and-file caucus of activist educators, is organizing support for teachers across the district who are choosing to join Garfield and Ballard teachers.

As the Garfield teachers summed up in a statement:

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 and our students...We feel strongly that we must decline to give the MAP test even one more time.

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