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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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Photo Credit: Twicsy.com

 

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 King5.com 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."

Outside the SPS headquarters, Hagopian spoke to the crowd:

The district says they want us to use the MAP test to chart a course for the Seattle Public Schools--but the MAP test leads to a destination of inequality. A destination of inaccuracy. A destination called "ethics violation." But we teachers won't take our students to those places. We are saying here today we have different destination in mind--one called creativity and critical thinking.

In addition to local supporters and teachers themselves, the protesters heard messages of solidarity from Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, and Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, where testing was a key issue in last September's strike.

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Unfortunately, Banda made it clear that he and the SPS administration aren't interested in engaging with the important questions teachers are raising about the MAP test. They have decided to meet the teachers' act of conscience with an act of force.

The teachers have made a clear case--that the test doesn't align with their curricula, nor with state standards on instruction; that the MAP consumes time and money that could be used much more productively; and that the authors of the test say it's inappropriate for use in evaluating teachers. SPS has no response to their case, only threats.

The teachers have reason and right on their side. Banda, on the other hand, holds the purse strings.

Now, the new movement against high-stakes standardized testing is itself facing a high-stakes test: Can we mobilize the kind of solidarity that would make it possible for the boycotters to stand strong in the face of these threats?

Will Banda and SPS teach us a lesson that resistance is futile? Or will we teach him a lesson: that people who dare to fight will have a mass movement at their back.

The teachers who have taken this bold step are of different minds about high-stakes standardized testing. Some favor replacing the MAP test with a different test that is actually aligned with their curricula. Others see this boycott as the opening act in a struggle against all high-stakes standardized testing.

Whatever the case, though, the situation is changed now. In addition to the specific questions about the MAP test and the broader problems with high-stakes testing, SPS has called into question the ability of teachers to act collectively in the interests of quality teaching and learning.

Only a few months after the Chicago Teachers Union strike galvanized the struggle to save public education, the MAP test boycott begun in Seattle has opened up a new confrontation--smaller in scale, but critically important--in the challenge to the priorities of so-called education "reform."

Everyone who wants to defend and improve public education needs to lend their energy in support of the MAP test boycott and to defend these teachers. They are truly fighting for all of us.

 

What you can do

Seattle teachers are asking supporters of the boycott to flood Superintendent Banda's office with calls and e-mails asking SPS to retreat from its threat to impose suspensions on teachers who act out of professional and ethical concerns in refusing to administer the MAP test. Call 206-252-0180 and e-mail superintendent@seattleschools.org.

Sign an online petition supporting the Seattle teachers' boycott. Educators can add their name to a statement of solidarity by e-mailing GHSstatement@gmail.com.

 

Brian Jones has taught elementary grades in New York City’s public schools for nine years, and is a member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators (the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers). Brian is a doctoral student in urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center, and has contributed to several books, including Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation.

Alan Maass is the editor of Socialistworker.org, a daily website of left news and opinion, and Socialist Worker newspaper. He is the author of The Case for Socialism (Haymarket Books, 2004), an introduction to socialism and the socialist tradition.