Seattle Teachers Boycott Standardized Testing

In a rare open defiance of state law, Seattle teachers are refusing to give their students the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test at Garfield High School. The test, which would be used as part of their annual evaluations, covers math, reading and other skills. Now, as reported by The Washington Times' Ben Wolfgang, the Chicago Teachers Union has spoken up in defense of the embattled Garfield faculty.

Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, predicted that it's a cause whose strength will only grow:

"I think it's important for us to go on record about this because we are likely to start seeing a more active anti-testing movement in Chicago."

Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda has been asking teachers to comply with the annual testing for the last three weeks. Although he has threatened teachers with unpaid suspensions, they are not listening. Instead, they continue to teach their normal lesson plans, arguing that classroom teaching matters more than a test that many say is flawed.

The test may not be fair to low-income students, and some teachers say it doesn't correspond to what they're teaching. The president of the Seattle Education Association explained why teachers don't feel that the feedback they get from the MAP tests is going to help in the classroom:

They are frustrated that the test doesn't line up with the curriculum, doesn't provide feedback they can use to teach their students and ties up the computer labs and libraries for students who are not taking the test.

Chicago teachers agree; last year many of them boycotted a similar test. The city district finally responded by eliminating it.

But not everyone is sympathetic to the boycotting teachers. Since student scores are used as part of the teachers' annual evaluation, low scores might expose poor teaching. Critics of teachers' unions point out that as an institution, the unions are against this kind of exposure. At the same time, they point out, when students are showing progress, teachers will get the credit.

Since 2001, student evaluations have been part of teacher evaluations. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 hoped to address the same disadvantaged students who may not do well on the MAP. The Act's statement of purpose said:

The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

Although it listed many different means and focuses to make this happen, the "academic assessments" have become the heavy hand of the NCLB.

The unpopularity of NCLB's assessment-based funding formulas has led the Obama Administration to propose reforms for the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. They propose more flexibility in finding ways to meet the goals as well as more support for maintaining funding for high-poverty school districts. They also propose rewriting the required tests to reflect accurately the needs of colleges and career entry. Lower reliance on testing is coupled with permitting states to develop their own state-specific standards.

In the standoff in Seattle, little progress is being made. Superintendent Banda, under pressure to crack down on the teachers, has appointed a task force to study the issues surrounding the MAP and other tests. As other teachers' unions and the National Education Association express support for Garfield teachers, Banda asked for cooperation in an open letter:

"I am asking as your superintendent that teachers follow our policies and procedures and administer this assessment for our students. This is especially important for our students who are the most at-risk academically. I am hopeful we will continue to work together in support of our students."

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