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Seattle Teachers Threatened with Suspension for Protesting Testing Mania

Refusal to administer a questionable test has resulted in the threat of suspension for teachers in the Seattle Public Schools.

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Teachers at Garfield High School and other Seattle schools are being threatened with a 10-day suspension for their pledge not to administer a standardized test that they, along with many education experts, believe serves no useful purpose for students.

Jose Banda, superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools (SPS), is taking the position that teachers have until February 22 to give the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. "Failure to follow through can be seen as insubordination," Banda said, according to KOMO News. The district could then suspend them for 10 days.

Teachers throughout the SPS system were required to attend a staff meeting Wednesday afternoon, where principals were instructed to read aloud from a letter that promised a task force would "report recommendations" to the superintendent, but that teachers were still expected to administer the MAP test by February 22.

This showdown in Seattle over the standardized testing frenzy in public schools developed fast. The MAP test boycott began with an announcement by Garfield High teachers on January 9 that they had decided, unanimously, to refuse to administer the test. Teachers at other schools, including Orca K-8 and Center School, have followed suit--the latest is Chief Sealth High School on the South Side of the city, which joined the boycott on Wednesday.

Teachers say the MAP test is a failure on a number of levels. It reduces class time when they could be working toward course goals. Students themselves say they don't take the test seriously because the results have no impact on class standing or graduation. And teachers are negatively affected by the results, which are used for evaluation purposes, even though the organization that created the test says it shouldn't be used as a measure of teacher efficiency.

The boycott has attracted national attention and an outpouring of support from parents, teachers and students who are frustrated with the spread of high-stakes standardized testing, which kicked into high dear after George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law and has continued and even accelerated under Barack Obama.

Within a week of the Garfield teachers' announcement, an online petition supporting the boycott gathered thousands of names in a few days. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a statement of support for the test boycott, calling it a "courageous stand." At the beginning of this week, nearly 70 prominent educators and researchers, including author Noam Chomsky, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch and author Jonathan Kozol, issued a statement of solidarity with the boycott.

On Wednesday, 200 teachers and their supporters rallied in Seattle, despite pouring rain, to march to SPS headquarters and take their message against testing to administrators.

Garfield High reading teacher Mallory Clarke told that she hasn't given the MAP test to her students for the past three years, and she wouldn't again this year, despite the district's threats:

Of course it worries me. I don't want to be away from my students for that length of time. I don't want to lose a ton of money on a teachers' salary. But I am willing to do it because that's the right thing to do, and it's also an education for my students to see me standing up for things that are right.

Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield High School teacher and a spokesperson for the boycott, said the speakers gave Garfield teachers a boost of solidarity. "The speaker from the Parent, Teacher and Student Association said that teachers know what kids are at grade level, and that they don't need another test to tell them that," Hagopian said. "What they need is the funds to get the kids there."