January 30, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 5

Community & Editorial

When a test fails the students, it’s time for teachers to boycott the test

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I teach reading improvement at Garfield High School. My colleagues and I, along with a growing number of teachers throughout Seattle Public Schools (SPS), have committed to resisting what we consider a particularly pernicious standardized test: the MAP, or Measure of Academic Progress, which tests math and reading up to three times a year for students in kindergarten through at least the ninth grade. I will not give this test. Neither will my fellow teachers. For us, to do so would be unethical and harmful to our students. Last month, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed our boycott. SPS superintendent Jose Banda has given principals until Feb. 22 to force teachers to give the test.

We won’t do it.

Four years ago, I obediently sent my students to the testing lab, proctoring the test with only a small amount of grumbling. It was a surprisingly strenuous task. Students sat shoulder to shoulder in front of computers in order to click on multiple-choice answers. Some wanted to sleep. Others, to chat. One young woman had to be dissuaded from sitting on another’s lap. Several were blatantly watching their neighbors’ screens. Why were these students so disengaged and so darn difficult?

As they finished and began to leave, I briefly interviewed the worst offenders. Here is what they told me: “This test doesn’t matter. Why should I work on it?” and “It was a nice break from all the hard work I do, but it makes me mad that you are wasting my time.” A few had figured out how to shut down their computers and end their tests arbitrarily. Conversely, many students were busily clicking away. One was almost in tears because she didn’t know how to answer questions on material her teachers had not yet been scheduled to teach. When I questioned others, they told me they had discovered that if you pick the wrong answers, the computer would give easier questions and let you finish earlier. How can mere test scores reflect this kind of intelligence and initiative?

I teach reading in a program that causes jaw-dropping gains in students’ ability to process text and comprehend what they read. But the students’ MAP scores didn’t reflect these achievements. Many students saw their MAP scores drop over the course of the year. Students who started out marginally motivated became less so each time they were confronted with long hours in front of a bland computer screen.

When I approached my colleagues, I began to hear widespread objections to the test. That’s when I first heard the term “junk science.” For example, the number of points my students were expected to gain in a year was smaller than the margin of error for the test. In other words, even if a student’s score improved, the test’s margin of error meant the improvement was statistically insignificant. MAP data is useless, at least at the high school level.

SPS would like to use this test to evaluate teachers. I’m not concerned about this threat. I can prove by real-life evidence, as well as other, better-constructed standardized tests that I’m an effective teacher. While many of us MAP resisters question the usefulness of standardized tests or the overreliance on such tests, we are not afraid of them. We are good at our work and welcome evaluation.

I’ve seen my students’ reading improve in just a few short hours of instruction. Therefore, is it ethical for me to allow desperately needy students to be removed from the classroom for up to nine hours during the school year for something that is clearly a waste of time? No, it’s not.

My blood boils to hear that night school and summer school have been canceled for lack of funds, but millions are still available for this giant MAP boondoggle. My school can’t afford enough teachers for every student to have a full schedule of classes, yet somehow funds flow to the testing company where a former SPS superintendent, the late Maria Goodloe-Johnson, once served on the board.

Because students take this exam with little motivation, because the validity of the test itself is questionable, because MAP is not aligned with what Seattle teachers teach and because MAP squanders money and instructional time, I won’t bring my students to the testing room for the MAP exam.

When I lie down at night after a hard day of work, my sense of justice lets me sleep.

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