Garfield High teachers won’t give required test they call flawed

Garfield High teacher Kit McCormick was supposed to bring her ninth-graders to the school’s computer lab Wednesday so they could take a district-required reading test.

Instead, they stayed put, joining a schoolwide protest against that test and others that are known as the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP.

MAP testing was scheduled to start at Garfield before the December holiday break, but so far not a single class has shown up at the lab to take it.

On Thursday, the teachers publicly announced their unhappiness with the test at an after-school news conference, saying it’s a waste of time that doesn’t help students or teachers.

Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest, a national organization opposed to high-stakes uses of standardized tests, said he could remember only one other time that so many teachers at one school boycotted a test, and that was in Chicago more than a decade ago.

With about 20 teachers standing in support behind her, McCormick was one of three teachers who explained that Garfield’s faculty has no problem with state testing, or testing in general. But they say this particular test has a number of problems, everything from what it covers to how well it measures achievement.

Nearly the entire faculty and staff at Garfield have signed a letter listing those concerns and others. Even teachers who don’t give the exam, because they don’t teach the tested subjects, signed the letter.

McCormick said she was particularly dismayed when a district staff member told her that the test’s margin of error is greater than the gains her students are expected to make.

In a statement, district administrators defended MAP, saying it helps the district analyze student achievement and measure how much students improve over time. They said they expect all teachers to give all required tests and will determine on a case-by-case basis what to do with those who refuse.

In the past, the district has disciplined at least three teachers who declined to give other, state-required tests, including former Eckstein Middle School teacher Carl Chew in 2008.

But administrators also stressed that they’re in the middle of a review of all tests that Seattle Public Schools students take, including MAP, with a report due to the School Board this spring.

“We want to examine whether or not there are legitimate concerns about any test that we have here in Seattle Public Schools,” said Bob Boesche, the district’s interim deputy superintendent.

“We want to do that, however, together, and we want to do that with the right expertise in the room, including those who have designed our tests and those who are using them,” Boesche said.

Garfield teachers, he said, will be invited to participate.

Seattle schools give MAP exams two or three times each year to students in grades one through nine and to some older students. The district uses the results as one way to measure the progress of students and schools, and, starting this year, the performance of teachers.

Does the fact that the test will play a part in their evaluations worry the teachers?

“Very,” said Mario Shaunette, head of Garfield’s math department.

“Ditto,” said McCormick.

Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher, said he hopes Superintendent Jose Banda will work with teachers rather than discipline them, given that Banda is new to the district and wasn’t the one to bring in the MAP test.