“Any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad.” - Anne Geddes
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The teaching and administrative staff at Garfield High School are leading an effort to abandon the Measures of Academic Progress test, a computer-based assessment system. In a public statement attached to a petition, the staff of Garfield High say, “…we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again.”
This week, Ballard High School joined the protest and now neither school plans on administering the MAP test, much to the chagrin of Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda. Superintendent Banda sent out an email to the staff of Garfield High on Monday morning urging them to rethink their position.
“We expect school staff to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations to administer this test in a timely manner,” Banda’s email said, with an emphasis in bold font.
Currently, MAP testing must be completed by Feb. 22, though neither Superintendent Banda’s office nor Seattle Public Schools have indicated a specific consequence for failure to meet that deadline. Regardless of whether staff at Garfield or Ballard high schools budge, the SPS Board has agreed to perform a formal assessment of the effectiveness of MAP testing beginning in February, with results coming out this spring.
The Garfield High protest is one of the first, school-wide test boycotts in the nation in over a decade, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. It is far from unexpected, though. There have been increasingly public rumblings in the academic world over what some call the overuse of standardized tests in schools, such as when Robert Scott, then the Texas Education Commissioner, called our current era of test-focused teaching “a perversion” of educational ethics.
The MAP test is just one of many standardized tests administered to K-12 students in Seattle Public Schools throughout the year. It focuses primarily on mathematics and reading, and is used as a “diagnostic” or “progress monitoring” test. In documents full of acronyms, like the most recent Program Evaluation and Assessment Annual Report by Seattle Public Schools, the MAP shows up in a long list of tests as part of a layered system of assessments. All students are subjected to end-of-year, mid-year interim, and screening tests to assess their knowledge against a set of core academic standards. Students who are identified by screening tests as “at risk” are given diagnostic and progress monitoring tests to determine why they are struggling with certain material and whether the intervention effort is actually helping them.
Seattle Public Schools began adopting assessment systems like MAP in 2008, fully integrating them into the curriculum by 2010. Doing so was part of a stated effort to create and maintain a set of core academic standards that are independent of the national textbook industry, which is out of the hands of local educators. But many teachers, like those at Garfield High, question the worth of diagnostic testing with MAP. In one of the earliest protests, a blog post from 2011 on the Seattle Education News and Commentary website, teachers list a number of grievances about MAP specifically. They point out the high cost to the district, estimated at between $370,000 and $500,000 dollars per year to subscribe to the Northwest Evaluation Association’s MAP service. They also say the MAP is a waste of class time and suffers from uneven access because of the test’s use of computers and library space for weeks at a time.
The numbers outside of the battle in Seattle’s schools seem to support Garfield High’s boycott. The Institute of Education Sciences has been analyzing MAP and other mid-year assessment systems for several years and has called into question the effectiveness of not just the MAP, but of the entire philosophy supporting it. They cite a recent study by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands that found MAP-like testing to have no significant impact on general achievement in mathematics. More to the point, the IES has called for more direct, independent evaluation of MAP assessment, saying, “Studies investigating the effects of MAP or other benchmark assessment programs on student outcomes are scarce.” Currently, most of the studies and reports touted by MAP developer Northwest Evaluation Association have been conducted by the NEA or its partners.
With or without the MAP exams, Seattle Public Schools will be seeing further modifications to their standardized testing practices in the next several years. By the end of May, an inter-departmental committee will create a comprehensive report and finalize the school system’s testing policy, including the adoption of the Smarter Balanced Common Core Assessments. Smarter Balanced tests will be coming to our schools in 2014.