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Garfield High School teachers in Seattle, Washington boycott Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, 2012-2013
Standardized testing in the United States dates back to the early 1900s, when the military issued standardized tests of intelligence to potential candidates for the armed services. In the 1970s, public school students began taking “high stakes” tests, in which their scores affected school district funding and the students’ ability to move on to the next grade. The original purpose of these tests was to hold school districts accountable by providing a standard measure of academic comparison across students and school districts.
The prevalence of high stakes standardized testing increased markedly in 2002, when United States President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This act required administrators at all schools that receive federal funding to issue standardized tests in math and reading to students every year from grades three to eight, and once in high school. In response, one testing agency, the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), created and sold the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to school districts. The test aimed to provide a measure of students’ academic growth in math and English.
Students in the Seattle Public Schools District (SPSD) began taking the MAP test in the 2009-2010 school year, and SPSD made it mandatory that teachers administer the test. On 19 December 2012, the faculty at Garfield High School voted unanimously to no longer administer the MAP test. Among the most vocal faculty were reading teacher Mallory Clarke and history teacher Jesse Hagopian. Garfield High’s Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator, Kris McBride, strongly supported the teachers, who wrote a letter dated 21 December in which they stated they would no longer administer the MAP test. They argued that the MAP tested students’ knowledge of content that teachers were not expected to teach and was therefore a poor measure of student performance; students lost valuable classroom learning time by taking the test; students took the MAP test online in school computer labs, so teachers could not use the labs for other academic purposes; and SPSD administrators evaluated teachers based on their students’ MAP test scores, even though the NWEA warned that the test should not be used for teacher evaluation. The teachers also pointed out a conflict of interest: the late SPSD Superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, introduced the test while sitting on the board of the NWEA, the test company that sold the MAP.
The teachers sent their letter to the SPSD Superintendent, José L. Banda, but he did not respond either in favor of or in opposition to their decision to boycott the test. On 9 January 2013, 19 teachers held a press conference and announced that the faculty at Garfield had unanimously voted to no longer administer the MAP test. They demanded that Superintendent Banda make test administration optional.
Garfield teachers received support from educators, students, and parents from Seattle and around the world. Members of the Garfield Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) voted unanimously to support the teachers on ending the mandatory MAP testing and sent a letter to Superintendent Banda on 23 January expressing their support for the teachers. That same day, Superintendent Banda issued a directive to Seattle principals in which he threatened that any teacher who refused to administer the MAP would be placed on a 10-day suspension without pay. Support from the community inside and outside of Seattle grew rapidly. Teachers and students held a rally at the Seattle Public Schools Headquarters on 23 January. They sang and held signs expressing their support of the decision to opt-out of the MAP test, popularizing the slogan “Scrap the MAP.” Jonathan Knapp, Seattle Education Association President, and Obadiah Terry, Garfield High School Student Body President, addressed the crowd. Soon, six Seattle schools in addition to Garfield High School joined the boycott, and teachers and staff at 11 other Seattle schools issued statements of solidarity.
The teachers at Garfield encouraged supporters to call Superintendent Banda and express their solidarity on 30 January 2013, which they called “National Call-in Day.” They also designated 6 February as the “National Day of Action to Support the MAP Boycott,” and asked people to voice their support to the Superintendent by phone, email, or letter. Between these two events, allies from across the country sent thousands of letters, videos, phone calls, and pictures to Superintendent Garfield to show solidarity with the “Scrap the MAP” campaign. They agreed with the teachers’ refusal to administer the test and requested that Superintendent Banda not discipline the teachers. Some of these supporters participated in marches around the country in which they protested all high stakes standardized testing more broadly, and many held specific signs and banners that read, “Scrap the MAP.” Others signed online petitions in support of the teachers. Each petition gathered thousands of signatures. Among the most prominent supporters of the boycott were the National Education Association (NEA), Jonathan Kozol, Dr. Wayne Au, Matt Damon and his mother, Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Diane Ravitch, and Noam Chomsky. In response to this support, SPSD formed a Task Force on Assessment in February to reassess the administration of the MAP test in Seattle schools, but the teachers still demanded that the district eliminate the test.
On 3 March 2013, parents, teachers, and scholars gathered at the University of Washington for a teach-in about Washington State’s standardized testing. Supporters continued to send letters to Superintendent Banda, and on 22 March, SPSD announced that they would reduce MAP testing requirements, such that only ninth-grade students who did not take the state reading test would be required to take the MAP, and that they would restrict the use of the MAP Algebra test only to students taking an algebra class. Superintendent Banda sent an email on 29 March to the SPSD community promising that no teacher who boycotted the test would be disciplined.
The end of March marked the end of the winter MAP testing season. Two hundred seventy three students opted out of the tests. There were 170 incidences of test refusal, which “means that a student either refused to come to the computer lab for testing or they refused to take the test once they were at the computer… 170 is the number of tests, not students.” Some of the students walked out of the computer lab at the start of the test. Since SPSD still had not made administering the test optional, the teachers continued to campaign.
When the spring testing season began toward late April and early May, Garfield teachers still boycotted the tests. They believed that the Task Force on Assessment had not improved the district’s standardized testing, so they created their own Teacher Work Group on Assessment, which met and discussed recommendations to send to the district Task Force. The teachers added to their demands that SPSD not renew their contract with NWEA in the spring to purchase the MAP test for the following academic year.
Garfield teachers called upon their supporters to send even more letters of support and to hold rallies in support of the Scrap the MAP campaign on 1 May (May Day) in an International Day of Solidarity with the Seattle MAP Test Boycott. More letters of solidarity arrived, including ones from educators in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
On 13 May 2013, Superintendent Banda sent a letter to SPSD administrators in which he officially declared that SPSD high schools could decide to not administer the MAP test in the 2013-2014 school year. Garfield teachers and students celebrated. The Superintendent still required that the test be administered at the elementary and middle school levels, thus dampening the victory for the SPSD elementary and middle school allies of Garfield High School.
One year later, the test remained optional at the high school level, and the Teacher’s Working Group on Assessment continued to meet and formed concrete ideas for testing alternatives in order to assess students’ academic achievement. As of 25 September 2015, SPSD completely eliminated the MAP test at the high school level and was phasing out the MAP test for students in grades three to eight. SPSD continued to require the test for students in kindergarten, first, and second grade. Since the goal of the campaign was to end the test in the high school level, the campaign was successful.