Why, as a parent, I support Garfield teachers’ opposition to excessive and inaccurate testing

seattle1For his first school-library experience in kindergarten, my five-year-old son was not allowed to check out a book. Instead he was placed in front of a computer with a set of headphones and told to take a test for an hour.

That was my family’s introduction to the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP®), a computerized, adaptive test for math and English, administered to Seattle public school children in grades K-9, three times a year since 2009.

Seattle parents were told the test would help teachers inform instruction and lead to personalized teaching for our children. Instead, it has cost our schools weeks in lost class-time and library access, reams of administrative busy work, and as much as $11 million in scarce district funding. It has also proven to be an unreliable tool, and one which our district is seriously misusing.

Seattle public school children are already fed a veritable alphabet soup of tests, beginning in kindergarten – MAP®, MSP, EOC, HSPE, SAT, ACT, and now, tests tied to the Common Core State Standards.

So when the teachers at one of Seattle’s most highly respected schools, Garfield High School, made national news on Jan. 10 by announcing that they will no longer administer the MAP® test, I applauded their courageous act.

Here’s why:

In 2010, a small group of Seattle parents met with the school district’s test administrators. We wanted to know more about this new test. Why did our children have to take it so often, and at such an early age? Was it intended to take so long? Did the district know that libraries were monopolized by MAP-testing for weeks at a time?

We were told that MAP® should take an hour, but kids may take longer; that it is not well suited for kids in grades K-2 because of their limited reading and computer skills; that advanced learners tend to hit the ceiling so it was of limited use for them; and yes, 40 percent of our school libraries were rendered off-limits three times a year because of MAP®.

I also learned that MAP® is not appropriate for English Language Learners or children with special needs, and that the margin of error in 9th grade exceeds the potential margin of growth.

Above all, the test is not aligned to our district’s curriculum, so it is not a relevant or meaningful assessment tool. This is the main – and legitimate – grievance of the Seattle teachers who oppose it, and a good reason for parents to object to it as well.

In fact, almost from the beginning, parents have reported bewildering swings in their children’s MAP® scores. Then in 2012, the vendor, Northwest Evaluation Association, Inc., announced a “recalibration.” It retroactively recalculated Seattle student test scores for three years, changing some by as much as 20 points. Parents jammed the district web site trying to find out what had happened to their children’s scores.

In Seattle, MAP® has morphed into an all-purpose, arbitrary gauge of most everything. The district is using it to determine eligibility for advanced learning programs, to screen fifth-graders for math placement in middle school, and now, in an apparent bait and switch, to evaluate teachers, a purpose for which even vendor, NWEA, has said  it is not designed.

MAP® in Seattle has effectively become a high-stakes test.

Endless testing is not the education experience I want for my children, and that is why I have opted my children out of MAP® for the past three years. I want them to become critical and creative thinkers, not subservient test-takers. I don’t want my children or their teachers shackled to a faulty testing product, or any standardized test, for that matter. That is why I support the Garfield teachers. That is why parents and teachers are saying: Enough – and opt out!

Sue Peters is a Seattle Public Schools parent, a founding member of Parents Across America, and the co-founding editor of the Seattle Education Blog.

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Comments (14)

  1. Beautifully stated, thank you. This teacher supports you, and the teachers at Garfield High School.

  2. I would love to have many more parents take such a stand! As a 30-year veteran teacher, I have always resented the instructional time taken by testing, and the planning time taken by endless meetings, training sessions, and paperwork devoted to testing. Just let me teach!

  3. Susan Peters, might I please spend a little time interviewing you sometime later this week or early next week? I work for the Washington Education Association and I am interested in gathering sound bites and opinions from parents who are in support of the educators at Garfield. Please contact me at ewesterman@washingtonea.org I look forward to hearing from you. Eddie Westerman WEA Communications 253 765-7036

  4. I feel your pain, from the librarian’s perspective. I get kicked out of the library for at least three or four weeks every year so they can use it for testing. When I am seeing classes in the library, there is often testing going on in the back, instead of teachers taking their students there for independent research.

  5. I wish she had hit on the financial side of what the testing institutions make and if anyone gets any type of kickback.

  6. Amen! The same thing is happening in Florida.

  7. Pingback: Seattle Parents Support Test Boycott « Diane Ravitch's blog

  8. Most people wouldn’t recognize kindergarten these days — the day is long and academic, includes lots of time at a desk and little for motor skills development. It’s a long, hard day for little bodies that should be up and moving, and experiencing the world (and not seated in front of a computer screen!) A lot of kids turn off to learning soon after the start of a new year. It’s a huge leap — and one that’s not appropriate for the age of this group — from early learning settings.

    • Oh yes, kindergarten is German for “children’s garden” and is supposed to be a place for learning social skills and group play and for beginning the detachment from a parent-centric world. But we have made it hostile and competitive. It is exhausting for these little ones to be there all day, competing and testing. No wonder they drop out at an alarming rate when they hit 8th grade.

  9. Thank you, Sue! For a comprehensive look at what the current Chicago Way cabal is doing to public education and what sort of corruption comes with this corporate-state education reform agenda, please take a look at this comprehensive essay on the matter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/106337306/THE-CHICAGO-PUBLIC-SCHOOLS-ALLERGIC-TO-ACTIVISM

  10. Right on! A supporter in California!

  11. Kudos, Sue! Thank you for speaking on behalf of all Seattle parents, and for parents across our state and nation who are standing up in opposition to this “testing madness”.

    Since I started looking at this testing mania with both eyes opened, I realized that these tests are ultimately just a political tool. They help put together a bunch of “statistics” that can then be used as a bludgeon to bash “bad” teachers, and continue this mendacious, destructive narrative against our educators.

    What’s the definition of a “bad” teacher? Whatever the people putting together these specious “tests”, or their clients, decide it should be, at any given time.

  12. I stand in solidarity with the parents, teachers, and administrators who reject and refuse high stakes testing. As a school board member (Maine) and the grandparent of 2 Seattle students, I can say we must STOP the madness. One of my grandsons was tested nearly to death in Kinder… his teacher told him he’d “never be a reader” as a result of the testing. I can report that he is now a college junior, majoring in philosophy and history, and an honor student. His reading load is HUGE and he blasts right through it every day. If you ask him how he feels about such testing, he will groan and his face will get red. If his mother and I (both teachers0 had not told him “Don’t believe that teacher or the test” he might be flipping burgers right now instead of applying to grad schools.

  13. Teachers have their days interrupted by many things throughout the day–
    some educational–
    some not really in that category at all–
    including but not limited to
    assemblies honoring NASCAR drivers,
    library talks by makers of a brand name ice cream,
    fund-raiser talks by business sponsers of various products oriented to kids instructed to tell parents–
    author days where upper grades of elementary school are read “Cat in the Hat” by community volunteers–
    library time where the kids are all read the same book that is not at their interest level or independent
    reading level.
    Testing is tested too. Poor results on what the test seeks to find out usually eliminates that test over time. Like it or not–computers are not the wave of the future–they are the wave of the present.
    Your child will not succeed in the real world if he/she cannot adjust to that reality–and neither will you.
    Adjusting to what is new and even intimidating at first is a sign of intelligence and involves willingness
    to learn a new skill set. The adaptive qualities required to learn what a child learns in school
    is a very significant reason as to why the child is in school to begin with–to learn new things.

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