Responding to pressure from Seattle schools superintendent Jose Banda that Garfield High teachers resume administering standardize tests to their students, on Wednesday, Garfield staff voted to continue their strike of the so-called Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) exams.

The teachers first announced their strike of the MAP tests, which are supposed to evaluate student progress in reading and math, last Thursday, January 10. They argue that the exams aren't taken seriously by students—who often randomly fill in bubbles—and when they do take the test seriously, their progress is often recorded as "statistically insignificant" instead of meaningful. In addition, the exams eat into valuable class time for those who need it most. Since the teachers expressed their concerns, the district has announced its intentions to conduct a thorough review of the exams.

But the faculty is doubtful this promise will result in meaningful change. They write in a January 16 letter to Banda, "While the district review of the test is a step in the right direction, we question why our past attempts to communicate with the district were ignored. Much was promised when the initial difficulties with the MAP were shared with the district, but those promises were not fulfilled. In addition, despite repeated attempts at communication by seriously concerned teachers, librarians, and test administrators, the 2012-2013 contract with NWEA was renewed at the June 20, 2012, board meeting with no discernible attempt on the part of the Board or the district to solicit the input that all stakeholders were anxious to share."

We've reached out to several teachers at Garfield High School for more information on their concerns with the test and with the responses of district staff and board members. Until then, you can find their full letter to Superintendent Banda after the jump.

January 16, 2013

Dear Superintendent Banda –

Thank you for your communication outlining the Board’s plan to review the effectiveness of MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing. As a staff, we are heartened to hear that the Board and the district have heeded the feedback provided them regarding both the questionable reliability and the limited usefulness of the MAP test.

We are also pleased to be invited to participate in the review process. Teachers, principals, and other test administrators who have hands on experience with MAP will be able to provide information that may not be available to those with less direct experience with the test.

While the district review of the test is a step in the right direction, we question why our past attempts to communicate with the district were ignored. Much was promised when the initial difficulties with the MAP were shared with the district, but those promises were not fulfilled. In addition, despite repeated attempts at communication by seriously concerned teachers, librarians, and test administrators, the 2012-2013 contract with NWEA was renewed at the June 20, 2012, board meeting with no discernible attempt on the part of the Board or the district to solicit the input that all stakeholders were anxious to share.

The upcoming review will be an opportunity to openly examine the evidence, but it is also quite late in coming. For three years, we have been administering the MAP, despite vocal and written concerns about many aspects of the test. We would ask that you understand our position in declining to administer the test given our original concerns about it which have yet to be dealt with. They are as follows:

The test is bad for students on a number of levels. First, it reduces the class time available to prepare for course goals and assessments that determine placement, graduation, and college admittance requirements. Those students who are most needy, specifically ELL and SPED students, lose more time from class. Second, the students are presented with test results that purport to provide them with a real assessment of where they stand in relation to their peers, but many of the students receive statistically insignificant scores based on a margin of error that exceeds expected growth. In addition, many students self report that they randomly select answers as they know the test results do not impact class standing or graduation. Finally, the testing process appropriates the computer labs in schools for a large part of the school year. This loss of resources disproportionally affects our lower income students who may not have home access to research or word-processing tools.

The test also negatively affects teachers. Because the results are unreliable, we are understandably reluctant to participate in gathering data that will be used for evaluation. When SPS and SEA agreed that the MAP would be used for evaluative purposes, less was known about the difficulty of basing teacher evaluations on the results. Perhaps neither organization was aware of NWEA’s own admonition that results were not to be used as a measure of teacher efficacy.

We welcome the opportunity to be a part of the dialogue about the MAP test in the upcoming review process, but, at the same time, we would like the district to recognize our frustration with the lack of recognition of our expressed concerns and the expectation that we continue to administer a test that we deeply believe is bad for our students. Given that the test and how the results are used is flawed on so many levels, we remain convinced that our only option is to not give this test. The interests of students, parents, and teachers would all be better served by completing a thorough examination before the test is administered to students again, an examination which we believe will support our criticisms of the test.

Thank you for your consideration.

The staff of Garfield High School