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Seattle’s Teacher Uprising: High School Faculty Faces Censure for Boycotting Standardized MAP Tests

StoryJanuary 29, 2013
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Earlier this month, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, voted unanimously to stop administering a widely used standardized test, calling them wasteful and unfairly used to grade their performance. They are now facing threats of 10-day suspension without pay if they continue their boycott. We go to Seattle to speak with two guests: Jesse Hagopian, a high school history teacher and union representative at Garfield High School who has refused to administer the MAP standardized test, and Wayne Au, a former high school teacher, assistant professor at the University of Washington, and author of “Unequal By Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Jimi Hendrix. Yes, Jimi Hendrix attended Garfield High School in Seattle. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

AARON MATÉ: Well, teachers at a Seattle-area high school are winning support locally and nationwide for their boycott of a standardized test used in teacher evaluations. Earlier this month, teachers at Garfield High School voted to stop administering MAP tests, calling them wasteful and unfairly used to grade their performance. Teachers at several other Seattle schools have pledged their support for the boycott, and both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have also given their endorsement.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Seattle school officials sent a letter asking principals to inform all their teachers that they could face a 10-day unpaid suspension for refusing to administer the test. However, at a rally held that same afternoon at Seattle Public Schools headquarters, teachers said they will not back down. This is Mallory Clarke, who teaches reading at Garfield High.

MALLORY CLARKE: I don’t want to be away from my students for that length of time. I don’t want to lose that kind of money on a teacher’s salary. But I’m willing to do it because that’s the right thing to do. And it’s also educational for my students to see me standing up for things that are right.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go now to Seattle, Washington, where we’re joined by two guests.

Jesse Hagopian is a high school history teacher, union rep at Garfield High School, who has refused to administer the MAP standardized test. He’s a founding member of Social Equality Educators.

We’re also joined by Wayne Au. He’s a former high school teacher, editor of Rethinking Schools, went to Garfield and is now assistant professor at the University of Washington, Bothell Campus. He is the author of Unequal By Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality and co-editor of Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools.

Jesse Hagopian and Professor Wayne Au, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jesse, if you could start off by explaining what is happening. This protest of teachers, unanimous, is unprecedented.

JESSE HAGOPIAN: Well, thank you, Amy, so much for having me on the show today.

And it’s really an incredible moment at Garfield High School. But Garfield High School has a proud tradition of teaching the arts. We have one of the greatest jazz bands in the country. As you said, Jimi Hendrix went to Garfield, and Quincy Jones went to Garfield. We have a long tradition of teaching our kids to think creatively. And, you know, Quincy Jones ended up producing the album Thriller, so I’m so glad that he didn’t have to be subjected to this MAP test and have his confidence killed and not produce one of the greatest albums of all time.

And I think it’s that tradition of creativity and teaching kids to think critically that has led our school to take his bold stand. The teachers at Garfield High School voted unanimously, with only three abstentions, to refuse to give this district-required test, because we feel this is a civil rights issue.

This is a test that was brought to Seattle under complete scandal. The former superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, sat on the board of the company that produced the test and didn’t disclose that when the Seattle Public Schools purchased the MAP test for over $4 million. Now, it’s not me who has a problem with that; it is the state auditor of Washington state that came and found that that was, quote, “an ethics violation” and, quote, “a conflict of interest.” But really, that’s the best part of the MAP test.

This test is a test that is not aligned to our curriculum. So our kids in ninth grade algebra are getting geometry questions that are not being taught to them in that grade. And so, what that means is it’s setting them up for failure. And we didn’t get into this job as teachers to set our kids up for failure. And what’s worse, this evaluation is tied to our evaluation. The MAP test is part of rating teachers. And so, when you have kids taking a test that isn’t tied to what we’re teaching in the classroom and then they can tie that to our evaluations, it’s terribly unfair.

And finally, I think one of the main reasons why this was a unanimous vote of teachers was really an equity issue. One, you have special education students don’t have their IEPs, or Individual Education Plans, respected, so that there aren’t proper accommodations for our special ed students on this test. And then, me, as a history teacher, when I assign research projects, we often find that the computer labs are booked for weeks, because the MAP test is administered on a computer. And so, our children aren’t allowed to use the library and the computer labs for research for way too long because of this MAP test that’s administered three times a year. And so, the students that have computers at home can still continue the research, but those primarily low-income and students of color who don’t have as much Internet connectivity at home, they lose out. And so, this was a civil rights issue. And we’ve learned from the past that when you’re dealing with a civil rights issue, a boycott can be a very powerful tool. And that’s what we’ve done at Garfield High School is boycotted the MAP test.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Jesse, Superintendent José Banda told King5 News that he’s received emails from teachers who support the MAP test and see value in it, that it helps identify areas of weakness and strength among students. He insists that canceling the test is not in the interests of students.

SUPERINTENDENT JOSÉ BANDA: I don’t think it’s fair to students. You know, what we’re forgetting about in this whole equation is that this really is about students. Not everyone has or shares the same sentiment that some of these teachers do, meaning the teachers from Garfield and some of these other schools.

AARON MATÉ: Let’s bring in Professor Wayne Au. If you could respond to Superintendent José Banda?

WAYNE AU: Yeah, you know, to me, it’s ironic. You know, I respect Superintendent Banda. I know he came into the Seattle Public Schools recently, and he sort of inherited the MAP test from the former superintendent. So, I sort of feel for his position of being sort of forced into having to deal with something that he didn’t bring in. So I want to say that up front. But it’s ironic to me that he’s saying this is about students, when, you know, several of the concerns that Jesse just raised—for instance, you know, access to resources, testing being a civil rights issue—are also about students. And so, you know, it just strikes me as odd that he would frame it that way, when a lot of the concerns that the teachers are raising clearly are about students and student learning. You know, they want their instructional time back for students.

They want a test—they want a test—they want an assessment that is going to be useful for them. And particularly at the high school level, we’re seeing that the MAP test is not—is not useful for their instruction. It’s not clear that it’s a valid and sort of reliable measure for high school-level teaching. There’s also been recent studies coming—that have come out that have said, for instance, that at the fourth- and fifth-grade level even, the MAP is not accurately—is not accurately—is not showing any improvement—the MAP test isn’t showing an improvement for reading instruction at the fourth- and fifth-grade level. So, you know, I think the test boycott is actually about students and doing what’s best for students and taking an ethical stance, you know, that shows that teachers are professionals and caring and they want to do what’s best for their students. And so, you know, I’m disappointed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn then to school principal, author and TV host, Steve Perry, who’s the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School. Perry says teachers who object to standardized tests are trying to avoid accountability.

STEVE PERRY: What they are trying to do is they’re trying to skirt the responsibility of accountability. This examination, like so many others, probably has some flaws, as most examinations do, as the examinations that they give in their own classrooms do. In fact, if we look at some of the real data, we find that American students are at the bottom third in virtually every international comparison. Why? Because all we do is depend on the opinion of one teacher, as opposed to a standardized examination which tells us what children can do.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Wayne Au, your response?

WAYNE AU: Yeah, it makes me laugh. For one, the international comparison, he actually doesn’t understand or isn’t actually portraying that correctly. There was a very recent study by Carnoy and Rothstein that showed that if you compare international test scores and you account for poverty, you can actually find that U.S. students compare quite well to the highest-performing countries around the world. And so, making that—like, his perspective on that actually doesn’t read that test data correctly.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me—

JESSE HAGOPIAN: And if I could add one thing, I—

AMY GOODMAN: Before we end, yeah, Jesse Hagopian, let me just say something. Let me ask you. You’re threatened with 10-day pay suspension. What are your and the other teachers’ plans at Garfield right now? Really, the whole nation is watching this unanimous protest.

JESSE HAGOPIAN: Yeah. The teachers at Garfield High School are not worried at all about this 10-day suspension. They’ve told me that they are willing to take this 10-day suspension without pay because this is a civil rights issue. They’ll just go into the classroom and volunteer their time, if they need be.

And this really has touched something around the nation. You know, at Garfield High School, we received pizza from a school in Florida during lunch, flowers from a school in New Jersey. You know, I received thousands of emails from people all over the country. And one of them was from a teacher in a Native American reservation who said, “I am supposed to give 14 standardized tests a year, and education is becoming far more about testing than actually learning.”

And we face big problems in the world today. We face climate change threatening humanity. We face endless wars, and we’re facing economic stagnation. And these types of problems cannot be solved by bubbling in A, B, C or D. We need to teach our kids critical thinking skills. We need to teach them civic courage and leadership skills to solve these big types of problems that we face in our society. And that is the direction that Garfield High School teachers are pointing.

Now, some Garfield High School teachers—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

JESSE HAGOPIAN: —may want to replace the MAP test with a better test, but many of us think we need far more accurate forms of assessment. We’re not against accountability. We want to show student growth, but we can’t do it with a flawed test. We want to move towards things like portfolios. And I think Seattle could be at the forefront—

AMY GOODMAN: Jesse Hagopian, we’re going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you, high school history teacher, and Professor Wayne Au, editor of Rethinking Schools, for joining us.

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