Friday, January 25, 2013

Testing Boycott: Garfield High School Seattle

On Thursday, January 10th, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, a school whose alumni include Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Quincy Jones, and Brandon Roy; announced that they had agreed, with no teachers voting nay, to resist giving the district-mandated computer test known as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) to their students.  The Gates Foundation’s influence promoting national high-stakes testing and the Obama administration, specifically Arne Duncan’s Department of Education, strong-arming states to extend standardized testing through Race to the Top waivers, is a well-known reality.  Possibly the action at Garfield High School will provide “The Spark,” that ignites students, parents, and teachers throughout the country to fight the this insipid, corporate testing insanity (and I might add fantasy).
Just before the January 10th news conference Garfield Teachers released a written statement announcing their refusal to administer the tests.  One of Garfield’s teachers, Jesse Hagopian, is a well-known progressive educator and activist in the northwest.  While he has been a spokesperson for the boycott, his colleagues and comrades at Garfield have been just as vocal.  The school’s Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator, Kris McBride, said:
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.  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.
The MAP test is given two to three times each year to 9th grade students as well as those receiving extra support services.  According to the teachers at Garfield, because the test has nothing to do with student grades and has little to do with what is taught in Seattle classrooms, students do not take the exams seriously.  However, Kris McBride tells us that the Seattle school district does and she adds: 
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.
Mallory Clarke, a reading specialist at the school who has not administered the tests to her students for the last three years noted that:
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!
The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) developed MAP and the organization has clearly stated that the test should not, I repeat, should not, be used to evaluate teachers.  As part of the Garfield boycott statement, the teachers wrote:
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.
Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield, whom I already noted, has been interviewed for various national outlets including Democracy, told Common Dreams that:
Garfield has a proud tradition of teaching to the "whole student" and that its faculty came together because they understand that test results do no adequately tell the story of who students are or will go on to be.  No one cares how Jimi Hendrix scored on a high school math test.  And no one should."
In a powerful op-ed piece that he wrote in the January 17th Seattle Times, Hagopian goes beyond the test to humanize the boycott.  He begins with the following:
When I look at the students in my history classes, I see young people who may be the next to turn the world inside out. Garfield has a long tradition of cultivating abstract thinking, lyrical innovation, trenchant debate, civic leadership, moral courage and myriad other qualities for which our society is desperate, yet which cannot be measured, or inspired, by bubbling answer choice “E.”
Hagopian reviews the invalidity of MAP and the fact that there is no possibility of teacher-student preparation before emphasizing which students the test most hurts:
This test especially hurts students receiving extra academic support — English-language learners and those enrolled in special education. These are the kids who lose the most each time they waste five hours on the test. Our computer labs are commandeered for weeks when the MAP is on, so students working on research projects can’t get near them. The students without home computers are hurt the most.
Jesse Hagopian also addresses some of the other issues that are expressed above by his colleagues.  But he also makes it clear that he and his colleagues are not anti-accountability, much to the chagrin of the critics of the right who believe that the boycott and many of the other progressive dispositions of American teachers are based on “greed” and “laziness.” Jesse writes:
We at Garfield are not against accountability or demonstrating student progress. We do insist on a form of assessment relevant to what we’re teaching in the classroom. Some of my colleagues would propose replacing the MAP with a test that is aligned to our curriculum. Many others, myself included, believe that portfolios, which collect student work and demonstrate yearlong student growth, would be a good replacement for the MAP. Such assessments would be directly tied to our curriculum and would demonstrate improvement over time rather than a random snapshot of a student on one particular day.
As I have already noted, the boycott has garnered a great deal of support – locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.  The PTSA at Garfield High School backs the boycott and has publically stated that it views MAP as a waste of time.  In addition, student-body President, Obadiah Stephens-Terry said:
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.
In Seattle teachers at other public schools are joining the boycott.  Faculty at Orca K-8 and Center School, as well as Chief Sealth High School, an International Baccalaureate School and Ballard High School are in solidarity with their colleagues at Garfield.  Ballard teachers published a letter saying that the 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 local unions in Seattle have come out favoring the boycott as have both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association whose President, Dennis Van Roekel said:
The educators at Garfield High School have taken a courageous and important stand on behalf of their students.  This is a defining moment within the education profession.  I, along with 3 million educators across the country, proudly support our members’ efforts in saying ‘no’ to giving their students a flawed test that takes away from learning and is not aligned with the curriculum.
Educators like Bill Ayers, Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Kozol, and Diane Ravitch have clearly stated camaraderie with the boycotting teachers.  Ravitch, who is a former log cabin Republican and a member of Bush I’s Department of Education, but is now referred to as a union apologist by the right, said:
The action of the Garfield High School faculty could have national ramifications because it shows other teachers that there is strength in unity and that they do not have to endure unethical demands with passivity and resignation.  For their courage, their integrity, and their intelligence, I add the faculty of Garfield High School to the honor roll as champions of public education.
Monty Neill, the Executive Director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing added:
Children across the U.S. suffer from far too much standardized testing that is misused to judge students, teachers and schools. We applaud Garfield High educators who refused to administer these useless exams and urge others to join in.  While it is relatively common for parents and students to organize boycotts of standardized tests, such action is unusual among teachers. This is a rare phenomenon.
So at a time when the use of high stakes testing is accelerating even though they are expensive, take students away from substantive learning, facilitate cheating, and are definitively not supported by research in terms of evaluating teachers, it is essential that we support the teachers at Garfield High School and like-minded educators throughout the United States.  Jose Banda, the newish Superintendent of Seattle schools have given teachers a February 22 deadline to administer MAP.  In a letter from Banda that all school principals were ordered to read at mandatory school-site meetings, the Superintendent said that failure to give the tests could be seen as insubordination with possible 10 day suspensions as punishment.
The co-editor of Pencils Down: Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools, Wayne Au, is a graduate of Garfield High School.  He wrote about the boycott with pride on the Rethinking Schools Blog and he presented some of the school’s political history:
Located in the historically African American neighborhood of Seattle known as the Central District, Garfield High School has a long political history. For instance, Garfield was a well-known Seattle hotspot of Black Panther activity in the 1960s and ‘70s. More recently, last year Garfield students walked out en masse and marched to the mayor’s office to protest cuts to public education. And now Garfield teachers have taken the bold step of collectively resisting a district-mandated high-stakes, standardized test.
Au’s article is titled “Proud to be a Garfield Bulldog” and he presents two conclusions in correspondence to both the boycott and the larger educational issue that we must emphasizes:
  1. Effective education activism sometimes means bringing folks together around a specific issue, but doing so in a way that is broad enough to capture a relatively diverse range of viewpoints on that issue; and
  2. However individual Garfield teachers make sense of their protest, within the broader context of the struggles against high-stakes testing and corporate education reform nationwide, this action takes on important symbolic meaning that extends well beyond Garfield, the Central District, and Seattle.
Finally, Au’s analysis corresponds directly to a part of Jesse Hagopian’s Seattle Times article where Jesse writes:
America faces incredible challenges: endless war, climate change and worldwide economic implosion. Our kids will need both traditional academic abilities and innovative critical-thinking skills to solve these real problems. If we inundate our students with standardized testing year-round, these larger lessons are lost.  Garfield’s teachers are preparing students for the real-life tests they will face, and reject the computer multiple-choice rituals that fail to measure grade-level content — not to mention character, commitment, courage or talent.
For more on the Garfield High School Boycott visit the Solidarity with Garfield High School Testing Boycott on Facebook.


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