Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
As some of you might have heard, Seattle teachers at 2 high schools have refused to administer a junk science standardized test mandated by the district. This is a brave action and a powerful action. From all appearances this seems like a rank and file organized protest with deep roots at the school site level and strong student support. These are the types of organization and action we should strive for here in Oakland as well.
Here we repost a great article analyzing this struggle from a teacher comrade in Seattle. The original can be found at the blog of the Black Orchid Collective, a revolutionary organization based in Seattle: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/seattle-teachers-resist-standardized-testing.
We hope this article sparks ideas for organizing we can do here as well. As always if you have ideas please share.
Teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School have recently chosen to resist administering a standardized test used for student and teacher evaluation. Ballard High School teachers followed soon after, declaring that they also would resist the test.
This is making big waves locally and nationally. I hope that teachers, students, and parents at other schools in Seattle and across the country extend solidarity to the Garfield and Ballard teachers; you can sign a petition here to suport them. I also hope this kind of action is replicated at other schools. The Garfield and Ballard teachers have shown that when we are unified we don’t need to be passive and cynical; we can resist.
Research studies like this one confirm what many teachers know from experience: that standardized tests are an unreliable indicator of teacher effectiveness. When teachers start teaching to the test out of fear for our jobs, it becomes harder for us to implement the actual research-based teaching methods that could make us more effective. Study after study has shown that teachers need to build relationships with students, respecting their agency and collective autonomy. Learning should be student-centered, not test-centered. We need to encourage cooperation and creativity, tapping into student interests, facilitating student self-awareness (“metacognition”), and purposeful, fascinating discussion. How are we supposed to do all of this while tests and test prep suck up more and more of our time?
I am in a teacher training program now, and I am struck by how the scientific research on student learning seems to point toward models of collective learning that are much more dynamic and revolutionary than what we have right now in capitalist classrooms. For example, Vygotsky’s social learning theory is very popular right now, which is ironic since Vygotsky developed it in the context of the Russian Revolution. These kind of innovative learning methods cannot be implemented within the confines of capitalist classroom discipline, especially discipline enforced by standardized tests.
The contradiction between what it is possible to learn and what is necessary to test has become so unbearable that teachers across the country seem to be at a breaking point. So bravo to the brave Garfield High teachers who show us all how to resolve this contradiction in a way that moves us all closer to freedom.
As I wrote in this article, actions like theirs are great because they unite student and teacher demands. The action is not simply about a better contract or higher wages for teachers. It is about teachers’ and students’ control over our daily lives, our teaching, our learning, and our creativity. It is about striking back against the imposed combination of stress and boredom that is destroying us on the job and destroying our students in the classroom.
This action, coming only a few months after the Rainier Beach High School Walkout, is a sign that struggles in the Seattle Public Schools could be heating up.
Garfield High School is also located in the historically Black Central District, where community activists including some of us have been struggling for nine months against the creation of a new Juvenile Detention Center. Here is a guest post about that struggle, by comrades from the neighborhood. Testing is a tool for sorting students by caste – along lines of race and so-called “criminal history”. Some students at Garfield and other schools are tracked toward high paying jobs in the region’s tech industry and other students are tracked toward that new Juvenile Detention center and eventually onward to prison and a lifetime of low-wage labor in jobs that discriminate against ex-convicts. The Garfield teachers’ resistance to testing and the anti-jail struggle happening down the street are two parts of the same freedom struggle.
Here is a statement by the teachers of Garfield High School (originally retrieved from Diane Ravitch’s website):
SEATTLE – In perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School will announce this afternoon their refusal to administer a standardized test that students in other high schools across the district are scheduled to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test, it purports to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math. The teachers contend that it wastes time, money, and precious school resources.
“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,” says Kris McBride, who serves as Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator at Garfield. “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.”
McBride explained that the MAP test, which stands for Measure of Academic Progress, is administered two to three times each year to 9th grade students as well as those receiving extra support services. The students are told the test will have no impact on their grades or class standing, and, because of this, students tend to give it little thought to the test and hurry through it. In addition, there seems to be little overlap between what teachers are expected to teach (state and district standards) and what is measured on the test.
Despite this flaw, McBride states, results of the MAP tests will be used by district officials to help evaluate the effectiveness of instructors who give the test. “Our teachers feel strongly that this type of evaluative tool is unfair based on the abundance of problems with the exam, the content, and the statistical insignificance of the students’ scores,” she says.
Refusing to administer a district-mandated test is not a decision the school’s teachers made casually, or without serious internal discussion.
“Those of us who give this test have talked about it for several years,” explained 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!”
After the affected faculty decided unanimously to make a stand against the MAP test, they told the rest of Garfield’s faculty of their decision. In a December 19 vote, the rest of the school’s teachers voted overwhelmingly to support their colleagues’ refusal to administer the test. Not a single teacher voted against the action. Four abstained from voting. the rest voted to support it.
“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, did it as quickly as possible so that they could do something more useful with their time.” History teacher Jesse Hagopian said, “What frustrates me about the MAP test is that the computer labs are monopolized for weeks by the MAP test, making research projects very difficult to assign.” Hagopian added “This especially hurts students who don’t have a computer at home.”
The $4 million MAP test was purchased by Seattle Public Schools during the tenure of former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who left her position in 2011 and sadly passed away in 2012. Goodloe-Johnson sat on the board of directors of Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the company that markets the MAP test. At the time, some pointed out this potential conflict of interest for Goodloe-Johnson, but the district went ahead with the purchase nonetheless. NWEA itself warns that districts should not use the map test to evaluate teachers. 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.
Here is Ballard High’s statement, also reposted from Diane Ravitch’s site:
The MAP test is a resource expensive and cash expensive program in a district with very finite financial resources,
The MAP test is not used in practice to inform student instruction,
The MAP test is not connected to our curricula,
The MAP test has been re-purposed by district administration to form part of a teacher’s evaluation, which is contrary to the purposes it was designed for, as stated by its purveyor, making it part of junk science,
The MAP test has also been re-purposed for student placement in courses and programs, for which it was not designed,
The MAP test was purchased under corrupt crony-ist circumstances (Our former superintendent, while employed by Seattle Public Schools (SPS) sat on the corporation board of NWEA, the purveyor of the MAP test. This was undisclosed to her employer. The initial MAP test was purchased in a no-bid, non-competitive process.)
The MAP test was and remains unwanted and unneeded and unsolicited by SPS professional classroom educators, those who work directly with students,
The MAP test is not taken seriously by students, (They don’t need the results for graduation, for applications, for course credit, or any other purpose, so they routinely blow it off.)
The MAP test’s reported testing errors are greater than students’ expected growth,
The technology administration of the MAP test has serious flaws district wide which waste students’ time,
We, the undersigned educators from Ballard High School do hereby 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.
Ballard High School teachers