Growing number of educators boycott standardized tests
We can hope the Garfield teachers' refusal on just one test among many will plant the seed of massive refusal across the country on many more tests. I was inspired by the way a retired Florida kindergarten teacher reached out to Garfield by calling a local pizza shop and ordering five large pizzas with two toppings to be sent to the school. I sent them a check for more comfort food.
Let this be the start of massive resistance.
Since 2002, standardized tests have taken on more significance because of federal mandates.
by Greg Toppo
The decision by a group of Seattle teachers to boycott a standardized test this winter could spill out to other cities as a decade of frustration over testing simmers.
Teachers at Garfield High School, Seattle's largest high school, said in December that theyw would take a pass on giving the latest Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, a diagnostic tool that also screens students for remedial or gifted classes. Given several times a year, it's also used indirectly to rate teachers, but Garfield teachers say it's not aligned to the state curriculum and produces "meaningless" results. They have until Feb. 22 to administer the test or face unpaid suspension.
Since then, teachers at two more Seattle schools have said they'll sit out the test, with the approval of leading academics and both major U.S. teachers unions.
Elsewhere, the Chicago Teachers Union this week launched a campaign "in support of local and nationwide efforts to eliminate standardized non-state mandated tests" from public schools.
In Providence, a group of high school students led a protest on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to get rid of the high-stakes New England Common Assessment Program as part of new graduation requirements. And in Portland, Ore., a student group is encouraging classmates to opt out of the standardized Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. The group hopes to persuade at least 5% of students to stay home, triggering an automatic "In Need of Improvement" designation at each school.
Since 2002, standardized tests have taken on more significance as federal mandates, beginning with the No Child Left Behind law, pushed schools to give annual tests and report the results publicly. The Obama administration has upped tests' importance by rewarding states whose schools tie student test scores to teacher evaluations.
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel calls the Seattle boycott "a defining moment" for the education profession. He said the test creates a dilemma for teachers who want something better for their students. "They're not saying, 'Don't test.' They're saying, 'This test is the wrong one.'"
Last month, a group of about 250 educators signed a letter showing support for the Garfield teachers — among them education historian Diane Ravitch, who said, "We've had more than a decade of standardized testing, and now we need to admit that it's not helping."
A Facebook page urging solidarity with the teachers now has more than 5,000 "likes," and a "Scrap the MAP" blog urges protesters to call Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda in support of the teachers.
A few educators say preparing for standardized tests takes away precious class time and costs school districts billions that could be better spent on improving instruction. As a result, school boards in a few states have pushed to re-evaluate their testing programs. In Texas last April, nearly 900 school boards signed on to a resolution questioning the tests. In June, the Florida School Boards Association called on state lawmakers to, among other measures, eliminate the practice of using student performance "as the primary basis for evaluating teacher, administrator, school and district performance."
In their Dec. 21 letter, Garfield's teachers "respectfully decline to give the MAP test to any of our students," saying they "cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again." The letter said that students don't take the test seriously and that it uses precious class time. "We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school," they wrote. "We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school and our students."
Van Roekel, a former Phoenix high school math teacher, said, "The teachers are saying, 'This is a professional dilemma.' " Because the test isn't aligned with the district's curriculum, it forces them to make a choice between teaching-approved material and helping students do well on a test. "I think that's a horrible position to put teachers in."
Banda acknowledges their concerns but says many educators use MAP results effectively.
"As much as the other side says that it's a waste of time, it's a waste of energy, that it's useless information, I hear from lots of teachers across our district who are in support of the MAP and in support of the fact that they have something that gives them data points on student achievement," he said.
"We've said from Day One that it's not the perfect assessment," he said. "We know that. I don't know that there is a perfect assessment, but we know the MAP's not perfect -- but it does give us enough credible data that helps us make decisions regarding student learning."
Banda noted that the district is reviewing the MAP as its contract with the test's vendor expires this year. He said he hopes the two sides "can come up with an agreement that still supports our kids, supports our students and serves our students."
Kris McBride, Garfield's testing coordinator, said Wednesday that teachers hoped to resolve the standoff, but that they weren't opposed to tests in general.
"This has nothing to do with teachers not wanting to give tests or teachers not wanting to be accountable," she said. "It has nothing to do with that. This is all about that this test is not good for our kids, period. So it's a win if we didn't have to give this test to our kids."
USA Today 2013-01-31
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