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How pizza helped Garfield High teachers resist standardized testing

Lessons for citizens from teachers who were fed up with the MAP testing system and found the will to hold together until Seattle Public Schools backed down.
Garfield High School

Garfield High School Photo: Don Brubeck/Flickr

Pizza's Inspirational Powers

Pizza's Inspirational Powers Photo: Janine

When Garfield High School teachers refused to administer a standardized test of students last winter, they unleashed an international outpouring of support. Eventually, the teachers' stand and the uproar prompted Seattle Schools Superintendent Jose Banda to suspend mandatory high school use of the MAP test.  

The teachers also called attention to the national trend toward the commodification of public schools and students: The nurturing of young minds is being transformed into testing outcomes, standardized evaluations of both students and teachers and creation of management tools to reward or punish classroom performance.

And the Garfield staff members reminded the rest of us that a small group of determined citizens — teachers, in this case — could make a difference. The district says it uses MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) results to track students' progress and help adjust instruction to their needs. Teachers objected to its use in high schools for a host of reasons, including questions about its validity for older students and the money and the time spent on testing.

David faced down Goliath — and his consultants, PR firms, lobbyists, think tanks, advocacy groups, foundations and political and media friends. Where did David get the nerve? The resolve? Why not just sign an online petition and call it good?

As a community organizer, I wanted to find out what inspired Garfield’s teachers to direct action* and sustained their determination.  I talked with Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield history teacher, about the boycott. Here are (some of) the sources of inspiration I found:

  1. The Mead Seed: Margaret Mead said social change occurs only when a small group of people take action. For Garfield’s MAP boycott, that group was a party of one – a teacher who decided that enough was enough. The teacher met with Hagopian, told him, “I’m not giving this [MAP] test,” and asked for his help in calling a meeting of Garfield teachers to discuss and vote on a boycott.  
  2. “We’re Mad as Hell and We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore” Motivation: To be successful, a direct action campaign must address problems that are widely and deeply felt, according to the Midwest Academy, a progressive-oriented training institute. At Garfield, anti-MAP sentiment ran deep among not only teachers, but students and parents as well. When the teachers who were to administer the MAP met to discuss the test, they voted unanimously to boycott. Later, all of the school’s teachers voted on the boycott; with the exception of a few abstentions, everyone supported it. Both the PTSA and Garfield students took active roles in letting other parents and students know about their right to opt out of the test. When the MAP test was eventually administered (by substitute teachers), only 180 of an expected 810 tests were completed.
  3. The “We Came to the Table. We Saw No Change. We Left” Approach: At a January 2013 press conference about the MAP test and boycott, Superintendent Bandas said the MAP “debate” was an “opportunity to come to the table.” But the boycott, like so many direct action efforts, came about only after a series of attempts to come to the table and negotiate with the district had failed. Over the last few years, these attempts included: the Seattle Education Association’s passage of a resolution against use of the MAP; a parent group’s appeal of the school board’s decision to renew its MAP testing contract; teacher testimony before the board, urging less reliance on the MAP; and a district-wide survey of teachers that showed overwhelming opposition to the MAP.

             In my experience as an organizer, these initial, good-faith negotiation efforts can make it easier for a group to remain unified after deciding to “leave the table” en masse and hit the streets. And a record of trying to negotiate makes it easier to attract support from people just learning about a group’s organizing campaign.      


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jul 2, 6:08 a.m. Inappropriate

I love a David-and-Goliath story as much as the next one, but in this case I think the teachers were pushing back against greater accountability. This may not have been the right test, but if that was the case, the teachers should have been pushing for a different test, not none at all.

I don't buy the argument that teachers provide continuous assessment and we don't need standardized testing. Unfortunately, lacking better management, such tests are the only parents and the public at large can compare educational achievement across grades and different classes. That doesn't mean we should be spending a lot of time on it, but we do need standards and outside assessment. The MSP, the state mandated test, indicates whether a child is achieving the minimum grade level requirements, but it provides no measure of how much a child is learning from year to year. Unfortunately, many teachers spend much if not most of their time bringing a minority of students up to these minimum standards, leaving the rest of the class bored. The MAP, and tests like it, show whether the teachers are helping all students progress. This "progress for all" approach, measured by the MAP, will ultimately drive more individualized instruction, as opposed to the sage-on-the-state, one-size-fits-all approach now prevalent.

Posted Tue, Jul 2, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Urban_Observer wrote: "in this case I think the teachers were pushing back against greater accountability"

No. That's not correct. The MAP was used as an accountability tool to only a small extent and only for a small number of the teachers. For high school teachers, the MAP doesn't play an accountability role.

"I don't buy the argument that teachers provide continuous assessment and we don't need standardized testing."

But you do know that teachers do provide continuous assessment, don't you? I'm not sure how you can choose not to "buy" that. And no one made the argument that we don't need standardized testing, so, again, you can't choose to "buy" that argument because there's no one selling it. These students are subject to a large number of other standardized tests including the HSPE and EOC tests that are required for graduation. Those other tests provide parents and the public at large with the data they need to compare educational achievement across grades and classes. They do it better than MAP.

"The MSP, the state mandated test, indicates whether a child is achieving the minimum grade level requirements, but it provides no measure of how much a child is learning from year to year."

First of all, the state test at the high school level is called the HSPE, not the MSP. And, while it may be true that the HSPE doesn't offer year over year academic growth data for individual students, neither does the MAP at the high school level. It may fulfill that function at lower grades, but not in high school. The expected gains at the high school level - and the MAP is only administered to 9th graders in high school - is less than the margin of error on the results.

I think before you argue against a position you should take the time to actually learn that position and take the time to learn the facts. Urban_Observer has not done that.

coolpapa

Posted Tue, Jul 2, 11:10 a.m. Inappropriate

"...you do know that teachers do provide continuous assessment, don't you?"

Perhaps some do, but across the board, most teachers are interested in bringing struggling students up to class standards.
This is the argument being sold in lieu of standardized testing so you should not dismiss it so quickly.

jeffro

Posted Thu, Jul 4, 4:30 a.m. Inappropriate

jeffro, can you be more clear in your meaning? What connection are you trying to highlight between classroom-based assessments and the standards functioning as a ceiling rather than a floor?

coolpapa

Posted Tue, Jul 2, 12:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Great article!

I love how Seattle's school district pays big bucks for the privilege of administering the MAP tests. Base subscription fees are in the half-million dollar range. For reference, $4.3 million of the February 2010 school levy was earmarked for MAP Another $4.3 million of the February 2010 school levy was also earmarked for MAP.

Check this article for more information: http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/15-reasons-why-the-seattle-school-district-should-shelve-the-map%C2%AE-test%E2%80%94asap/

bigendian

Posted Tue, Jul 2, 2:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Sweet anecdote.

KarenLee

Posted Tue, Jul 2, 3:36 p.m. Inappropriate

When the school district didn't dismiss those teachers, they sealed my "no" vote on every school levy from here to eternity. That's a net loss of two votes, because I used to be a reliable "yes" vote on school levies.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jul 4, 4:28 a.m. Inappropriate

NotFan, why should the teachers be dismissed? In the end, they did nothing wrong. Also, the action you think they took is not a firing offense. So there is no reason that they should be dismissed.

When the world doesn't match your expectations, you should consider the possibility that it is your expectations - and not the world - that is out of whack.

coolpapa

Posted Thu, Jul 4, 6:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Obviously it doesn't matter if you test or not, on anything. When the students choose to reject graduation requirements and still demand a diploma, they would have learned the lesson well enough. After all, Garfield is only average.

http://www.publicschoolreview.com/school_ov/school_id/87338

Cameron

Posted Thu, Jul 4, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Cameron, which students chose to reject a graduation requirement? And what does that have to do with the MAP?

coolpapa

Posted Fri, Jul 5, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

There are no standards that cannot be changed or ignored and still receive a diploma, that is the lesson.

Cameron

Posted Mon, Jul 8, 1:10 p.m. Inappropriate

There was no standard changed or ignored here and the MAP is not a graduation requirement. You missed the lesson.

coolpapa

Posted Fri, Jul 5, 9:26 p.m. Inappropriate

This only counts if at the end of the day Jill and Jack can read, write, and do simple math. What are the chances of that happening with the same mediocre staff in place? The correct answer is zero. The only growth that will come of this, the belly of the pizza eaters.

Djinn

Posted Mon, Jul 8, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

What makes Djinn think that the staff at Garfield is mediocre? And what is Djinn's expectation - that Garfield and every other school should all have teachers who are above-average? What's that Lake Woebegone world like? Most teachers are mediocre. Most doctors, lawyers, engineers and executives are mediocre. That's the definition of mediocre.

coolpapa

Posted Wed, Jul 10, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

In one way, I don't get the fuss about the MAP. In Seattle, if you don't want your kid to take the test, you can opt out. In the current structure that is moving forward, it would be ONE (one!) measure used to evaluate a teacher's performance -

That said, reliance on these tests for performance standards and for gaging student progress is difficult. My spouse is a teacher and some of the kids just rip through the test because they know it doesn't count towards their grades - so WTF? But not matter what, some proportion of the kids will always do that. And, for those kids with little or no support at home - what is a teacher supposed to do within a framework of a class of 32?

The solution? I'm not sure. But it seems some type of standardized testing is needed to help measure student performance - that, combined with in-class observations of administrators or teacher supervisors would help for evaluations. Oh yea. Administrators are swamped and have little time for being in the classrooms.

Want to really improve kid's performance? Cut class loads in half. Oh-but that would be a real world solution that costs money instead of just giving lip service to how we value education.

Treker

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