Superintendent Banda throws down the gauntlet on MAP tests

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.” 

Now things look otherwise. With teacher contract negotiations set to take place in less than six months, this is troubling.

And the fact that, like Lincoln, Banda now faces “a house divided,” with less than three weeks before Seattle voters are called to decide on two important education levies, is even more troubling.

Is Banda worried that the levies will be impacted by the current standoff?  “I hope not,” he said.  “I view this as people exercising their right to disagree.”

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