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Superintendent Banda throws down the gauntlet on MAP tests

Protesters gathered Wednesday after the Seattle Public Schools superintendent reinforced his commitment to standardized testing. What will this mean for his leadership?
 SEA President Jonathan Knapp and other union leaders join protesters.

SEA President Jonathan Knapp and other union leaders join protesters. Alison Krupnick

Seattle Public Schools superintendent Jose Banda.

Seattle Public Schools superintendent Jose Banda. Alison Krupnick

He didn't really have any choice, many people believe; not if he wants to be taken seriously as a leader. And so, days after stating that teachers should continue with the Measures of Academic Progress test until a standardized testing review could take place this spring, Superintendent Jose Banda’s honeymoon period officially came to an end. Banda, faced with continued resistance from teachers at Garfield High School and Orca K-8 and the threat of a growing MAP test boycott, faced down a group of protestors at his Wednesday press conference.

Did he look every inch the leader at the January 23 event, in which he announced the establishment of a Joint Task Force on Assessments and Measuring Progress? No, he looked uncomfortable and somewhat bewildered. Why, he was probably thinking, when he had offered to give the MAP test a serious review, were the teachers, backed by their union, ratcheting up the debate? Just after he'd sent out a letter about the standardized testing review Task Force, highlighting the importance of data as a means to measure student growth and provide academic support.

Perhaps in response to the pushback, there was a second letter accompanying his January 23rd statement about the Task Force. This one was signed by Paul Apostle, assistant superintendent for Human Resources, stating what the consequences would be if teachers failed to administer the MAP assessment by the February 22 deadline.

There are many issues of contention surrounding the MAP test. The key ones are its lack of alignment with curriculum and its lack of relevance for high school freshmen, who many feel do not take the test seriously because it does not impact graduation.  Concerns about loss of classroom instruction time and closure of school libraries and computer labs during testing periods are also at issue, as is the perceived conflict of interest of former Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson, who brought the MAP test to Seattle while serving on the board of the company that sells it.

Banda reiterated that the piloting of a “second generation of testing” is underway. This test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, is aligned with the Common Core standards that will be fully implemented in Washington State by the 2014-2015 school year. He acknowledged that funding cuts have led to less professional development for teachers on how to most effectively use the MAP and that parents would also benefit from a greater understanding of what MAP scores mean.

Though Superintendent Banda used the words trust and equity and cited this debate as an opportunity to “come to the table,” and “find common solutions,” there was very different rhetoric outside the John Stanford Center. There protestors, among them teachers, students, parents and union representatives, stood in the rain to make their opposition to the MAP, and support for the teachers who refuse to administer it, clear. 

Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp, who says his agenda is “to end the MAP,”  held his phone up to the crowd to tell them that a call had come in from Washington, D.C. It was National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel offering his support. “You are doing the right thing,” Knapp repeated, from the words Van Roekel apparently spoke into the cell phone. The crowd cheered.

The students present at the press conference, representing Garfield and Nathan Hale High Schools, wondered if students would be part of the Task Force. Though clearly not what the District had in mind, Banda and his staff agreed to consider this.

Later, Banda acknowledged that a possible outcome of this brouhaha would be to suspend MAP testing for high school students this year.  If he does so, one wonders if this is a net gain or a net loss for him.

Once, it seemed as if Superintendent Banda and SEA President Knapp, in his Bogartesque ever-present trench coat, could be at the beginning of “a beautiful friendship.” 


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

"perceived conflict of interest"

Kind of like a perceived conflict of interest when Darleen Druyun worked for Boeing and then the Air Force?

It's not an issue about tests. This is an issue about for profit education and the education-industrial complex that is all about money and not about students.

What happened with the financial industry and the housing industry is just getting started with education. No regulations, no financial oversight, here come the grifters.

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice comprehensive article. I would only add that a) the margin of error is greater than any expected gain and b) the creators of this test report that it was never intended to be used for teacher evaluation.

Superintendent Banda should reconsider threats of a ten day suspension. For one, it would only serve to do greater harm to high school students. Can you imagine a high school math teacher being absent for 10 days? Secondly, if teachers are forced to give an incredibly flawed exam..they would loose respect for their chief. Mr. Banda came into the district to listen to ALL. Now is the time.

I understand the Superintendent must be under an incredible amount of pressure from Ed. Advocates and city leaders. Yet, he must do the best thing for the students. That is, allow continued instruction without interruption from substitute teachers and work with the teachers to find a better evaluation tool.

A greater discussion about excessive testing- as requested by reformists- needs to take place.

Watching

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 4:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's the long view, Alison.

The MAP test debacle is better to happen now than to completely derail the negotiations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Kids mostly don't like the test because of the way it spirals into areas they haven't studied yet. Teachers don't like it for many reasons including the same reason the kids don't like it and that it is not designed to be a teacher evaluation tool, but that's how it's being used. To me, it's a passive-aggressive approach to teacher evaluations instead of an honest direct one.

We formerly believed that the primary grades were just a time to get ready for later school years so we focused teacher preparation standards and programs on that premise. We now realize that those early years are the make it or break it time for setting students up for later success in literacy, numeracy and soft skill development. We also realize now that STEM careers cannot happen without a solid math foundation that in turn builds a solid science, technology and engineering foundation. Without the math, we're going nowhere. We need to focus attention on math at the front end to fix this. Not middle school or worse yet high school and community college remediation, but preschool, primary and elementary grades.

Most elementary teachers are not and were not required to master mathematical content on any level and are not and were not required to master the teaching methods needed to assure that all students acquire essential numeracy skills. Some do have fantastic math skills, but that's not the rule. Many elementary teachers self-describe as "math phobic". Many teachers also self-describe as "technology phobic". These qualities do not add up to paving the way for STEM careers for students.

No matter how many times you administer the MAP test, that will not change the underlying issue that is our need to modify the requirements for preschool and elementary teachers to be those who are masters of literacy, numeracy and soft skills and who can successfully transfer that to the students. This is not to blame teachers, it is the system we created and it needs change.

For now, we aren't going to get every College of Ed to get it right on their own. We need to change it on the state level. However, starting tomorrow, we could stop hiring elementary teachers with deficits in math. They need all 3 areas of expertise - literacy, numeracy and soft skills, not one or the other. In elementary school, kids spend their entire year in the classroom with one teacher - that teacher is everything to every one of those students.

We could also get onto the PAR (Peer Assistance + Review) evaluation system instead of value-added so that we can exit out those who should not be teaching and fully develop those who should be. It's humane and effective unlike the ridiculous system we have now which in neither. Doing this would vastly improve the teaching corps, benefit the students and save money.

We could have the prospective teachers take the Compass test that the kids have to take to place into college level math after high school instead of having the students take the MAP test 3 times a year and have them do a series of videos showing their skills to teach this material to students so that they not only learn it, but want to learn it. The Compass is only $12 a pop. The videos could be used by the hiring team to help screen applicants using real classroom evidence, not resume fluff. That would be inexpensive as well. We hire about 200 teachers a year, so that should quickly help. Meanwhile have the rest of the teachers take the Compass and then set up the kind of professional development that works, not the wasteful math coach situation we're involved in now.

For the kids, yes, open source formative tests are a good idea. Those are like old-school quizzes and help the teacher adjust their teaching to reach all students. Summative tests, end of course tests, are to inform changes that need to happen in curricula and instruction though that doesn't happen. Instead teachers, students and entire schools are labeled and relabeled, but the system stays the same. Proprietary testing and "war rooms" of data crunching are a waste of resources and a giant distraction.

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 10:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Since when did the sole purpose of our education system become training students for the so-called STEM careers? Also, where is your data that there is a problem with illiterate teachers, and teachers who do not know math? Data.

jhande

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you Kate, this is a very helpful comment. I've been a little perplexed about what the issues really are here, and you've raised some very good and practical points. The notion that this is all about the Superintendent's manhood, as the article suggests, just wasn't a very satisfying explanation.

It's true, as another commenter said, that math isn't everything. But it was certainly a weak point in our own kids' education. I don't agree that every elementary teacher needs to like math. There can be excellent elementary teachers who don't like math, and everyone has his own strengths and weaknesses. But I do agree that the system, as now constructed, does little to bring out the math skills of those students who may grow up to like and use math. This is a real problem.

One part of the problem is the whole idea that elementary kids have to spend all day with the same teacher. Why not let elementary teachers specialize a little bit, so the Principal can make the best use of the skills that happen to be available each year? If the school is fortunate enough to have one good elementary math teacher in each grade, then let the whole school take advantage of that. Don't hold all teachers to the exact same content standard: that is again a form of passive-aggressive supervision.

Another part of the problem is the idea that math is a separate and distinct subject. That communicates to the kids that math is somehow useful in isolation, disconnected from all the other subjects. That might be true for a few professions, but most of us (I'm an engineer) have to integrate math with the rest of our knowledge in order to make it useful. Why can't we teach high school students to do this? I especially dislike the math subjects taught in high school, starting with Algebra 2, which are full of a lot of drudgery that the kids can't readily connect to anything useful in their lives.

Kids are taught that math is tedious and boring. This is wrong. They should be taught that computer programming and geology and bridge design and industrial design and fashion design and finance and psychology are interesting and that a few math skills are necessary in order to pursue these careers. They should learn these math skills as a part of classes that ask them to create something real and valuable.

I agree that adding more standardized tests is a total waste of time. It is also distracting us from the real problems, that we are woefully failing to make education relevant to the future workforce.

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

What Kate said, but two additional thoughts.

The writer points out that Banda is in a tough spot, and that he is forced to get tough with teachers if he is to be taken seriously. But might I ask: Taken seriously by whom? The downtown power establishment? Why is its view of him more important than the view of his teachers, of parents, and students? Whom does he serve? With whom should he be in dialogue to resolve this? The editorial board of the Seattle Times and the Alliance for Education? Or the people who are on the front lines of working with the kids this whole system is designed to serve? Who is in the better position to judge what's in the best interest of these kids?

Jerry Brown said in his state of the state speech yesterday: "We seem to think that education is a thing--like a vaccine--that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, 'Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire'."

He goes on to say, "This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students."

Brown gets it. We have to recognize that there is a human tendency to look at the future through the rear view mirror, so to say. We assume that the future will look mostly like the past, and while there will be continuities, we need nevertheless to create education systems that will be supple and adaptive to disruptive changes.

The tendency in some education policy circles to move toward greater standardization and centralization is exactly the wrong emphasis for the reasons that Brown points to: because centralized bureaucracies are rigid, not supple, and slow-moving, not nimbly adaptive.

It's for this reason, following on what Kate said, that we should be focused on recruiting the best students to be teachers, we should pay them well, train them well, and then trust them to use their judgment--in collaboration with the broader education community--to deliver what their kids need. And some of them need STEM skills and some of them don't. I, for instance, don't. Everything I remember about Math--algebra through calculus--and have occasion to use could be taught in a weekend workshop. So except for those kids who are likely to have STEM careers, why are we forcing it on the kids who will not have those careers?

You insure quality not by imposing it from on top and forcing every teacher and student to fit into some technocrat's box, but by putting the best people in the classrooms and trusting them to do their jobs. And we have every reason to believe that the Garfield teachers know what they are doing, and we have no reason not to trust them--and if I were Banda, I would care far more about whether my teachers took me seriously than whether Lynne Varner did.

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Two observations here: (1) the teachers have won, but they seem intent on snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory; and (2) Bonda is quite appropriately saying "enough is enough", let's use the established process to come up with a viable alternative to the MAP.

One doesn't change policy by simply thumbing your nose at it and refusing to implement it (unless we want to condone childish temper tantrums), one uses the established process for changing policy. The teachers have done a great job drawing attention to the inadequacies of the MAP test and there seems to be a growing consensus that it doesn't add sufficient value, at least at the high school level. Bonda has created a task force to make recommendations on changes. Moving toward the SMARTER Balanced Assessment is one option worth looking at since it will be implemented statewide and measures college and career readiness -- the end goal, right?

I applaud Bonda for telling the teachers to cut it out and use the process that's been established for coming up with another assessment of student learning. One that they WILL be teaching to. And yes, student learning MUST be one of the criteria in which teachers are evaluated. If teachers don't like the MAP or some other assessment tool, than propose a viable alternative!

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

One doesn't change policy by simply thumbing your nose at it and refusing to implement it (unless we want to condone childish temper tantrums), one uses the established process for changing policy.

The teachers and their union have been complaining about MAP, through various established channels, for years. I am very tired of hearing this "childish" and temper tantrums". There is none of that in what teachers (and librarians) are saying. It's worry over an expensive test that is not making for better students OR teachers and that is the goal.

So once they exhausted "the process", they have now put their collective feet down publicly.

And yes, another tired canard "student learning must be a criteria for teacher evaluation." News flash - the SEA agreed to this....two years ago. They were one of the first unions in the nation to agree to the use of two assessments So, no they are not fighting being assessed and using student learning data.

The teachers, if you are keeping up, HAVE suggested solutions other than MAP.

And it's Banda, not Bonda.

westello

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

This figures. Whenever the Morris/Korsmo/Gates' minions want to apply their sleazy pressure, they turn to Crosscut and the Seattle Times. This is not a test of Banda's manhood, yet these two "media' outlets try to make it so. This is a test of whose interests come first: our students, or these power-drunk "community leaders"

The writer at least does not call the teachers "insurgents" like Crosscut's David Brewster once famously addressed a district official who wasn't doing what Brewster wanted. Though the teachers are insurgents, in a way I would expect them to be. No, not Johnny-come-lately Knapp, but the others.

As a witness to the NWEA shenanigans, the SEA's ennui, the lack of an objective evaluation of helpful assessment tool, and the ruthless suppression of discourse and dissent, I would expect no less from our teaching professionals.

Barney

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 1:06 p.m. Inappropriate

As a parent of a 9th grader, I wish Mr. Banda would support the teachers and dump this test this year. I plan on opting my child out in support of the teachers. I would rather have her read a book.

Rhonwyn

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 3:28 p.m. Inappropriate

One last point, Banda threw down the gauntlet and called for a media briefing without ever meeting with the teachers and those schools supporting Banda.

Banda made a mistake in refusing to meet with concerned teachers. This isn't the way to build trust and relationships.

I continue to think that a 2 week suspension is too extreme. Mainly, it would only serve to hurt the students in classrooms of absent teachers.

The national spotlight is on Banda; he must be frightened. My hope is that Banda can center himself, stay grounded and make decisions without escalating the situation. Building trusting relationships with his teaching corp is essential.

The teachers have very reasonable concerns. If Banda were to force this test he would look foolish. This is a great time for Banda to say "Hey, this isn't the test I ushered into the district. Let's take a look at this."

Watching

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 5:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Put the test, or a sampling of the test, out to the public. Let them see it, sample it, take it and comment.

Then decide.

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Questions: details pls. About the next generation test - piloting where? Purchased from whom? Psychometrically defensible? Training in it's use, how, when, evaluated by whom? To be used as teacher assessment/value added in the next CBA? How? Where is Labor Council w/ resolutions, mailings to parents to opt their children out, OP/Ed pieces? Costs spent on MAP, failure of School Board to address till now? Make-up of "review committee include parents? Agenda for said committee, leadership of said committee?

Weak. Very weak.

LeslieH

Posted Sun, Jan 27, 11:31 p.m. Inappropriate

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/school%20board/12-13%20agendas/112812agenda/20121128_Presentation_ProgramEvaluation.pdf

No shortage of tests. In fact, your child might be a subject of human experimentation. Oops. I meant to say- your child may be wasting precious instructional hours piloting tests. Are parents being informed that their children are piloting tests? I"m sure not.

Check it out.

Watching

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Another thought, suspend the teachers for 10 days, have the substitutes be ill, and waste a heck of a lot more of our students' precious learning time. Perhaps a stand by the substitute teachers assn. is in order of solidarity- kind of likes cabs crossing picket lines --- then,if there any certificated teachers left at the John Stanford Center they could see the inside of a classroom! The possibilities are rich, indeed.

LeslieH

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

The substitutes union did come out in support of the boycott. Now whether they will stand by teachers who DO boycott the MAP, that will be the interesting question as Leslie has said.

westello

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 11:09 p.m. Inappropriate

The school district can write its own tests. It is a waste of money to buy tests, that could easily be written in-house.

The school district should not be paying corporations for tests, or for programs. I do not care about the "accreditation" touted with these tests, and programs (like the Baccalaureate program). "Accreditation" is not education.

So, some education industry trade group "accredits" something, so what?

If the school district wants to test, then use tests the school district writes. If the school district wants advanced programs, use advanced programs that the school district creates. We do not need to be leaking school district money to test corporations, or any of the corporate education industry programs. There is nothing exceptional, or innovative, about these corporate tests, and corporate programs.

Also, this so-called STEM emphasis is pointless. The promoters of STEM quickly start sounding like a bunch of La Rouchian technocratic fascists. Not everyone is interested in being some computer tapper in some office. Not everyone is interested in doing what Bill Gates says. Bow down to billionaires on your own time.

jhande

Posted Sun, Jan 27, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm down with that.

Although the present system is not perfectly efficient, once more public funds are spent on for profit tests and consultants, I see the efficiency and outcomes declining instead of getting better.

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

The promise of a review of the district's assessments didn't satisfy the boycotting teachers because they got that promise last year.

Seattle Public Schools has a long-standing practice of deflating opposition by promising future action and then, once the opposition has been mollified, failing to fulfill the commitment to take the future action. They have done this dozens and dozens of times. The teachers were right to refuse to accept Mr. Banda's credit. Maybe AFTER the review they will stop their boycott, but there is no reason for them to stop the boycott in exchange for the promise of a review - especially when that promise has already proven empty once.

coolpapa

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