Outside the Seattle Public Schools headquarters this afternoon, a crowd of more than a hundred people gathered in support of the Garfield High School teachers' boycott of the district's standardized test (the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP), shouting and singing and preparing to crowd into the school board meeting taking place inside. Little kids in winter hats and parkas held hands, older folks waved signs. "I'd rather be teaching," read one. "Parent supports Garfield," read another. The vice president of the Chicago teachers union, Jesse Sharkey, called in, and his speech was shouted out to the crowd. "Sisters and brothers... There's only one way forward: Stick together and fight." Teachers learned today, in emergency after-school staff meetings, that they could be subject to 10-day suspensions without pay if they did not administer the test, according to Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian. "They say we're disruptive?" Hagopian called out, right outside the closed doors of the school board meeting. "I think a test that is not aligned to my curriculum is disruptive. Threatening teachers with 10 days without pay is disruptive." The rally ended with a hearty rendition of "SCRAP THE MAP! SCRAP THE MAP!" before leaders reminded everyone to be respectful, and most of the group crowded into the meeting.
If you haven't been paying attention to this issue as it's developed, now is the time to start. To recap: On Thursday, January 10, Garfield high school teachers called a press conference to announce that, "in perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation," they were universally refusing to administer the district-mandated standardized test, calling it "counterproductive" and a waste of "time, money, and precious school resources." Seattle Public Schools superintendent José Banda's response has been to announce a task force to "discuss concerns and find solutions" regarding the MAP test and then to tell teachers they are still required to administer it. A couple of other schools have since joined in, further schools have voted to "support" the boycott, and other organizations have voiced their support as well—PTSAs, Garfield High School's Associated Student Body, the school district's student senate, the Seattle Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Parents Across America Seattle, and more. The two most salient concerns, though there are many others, seem to be (1) that the test was sold to the district while the sitting superintendent of schools, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was on the board of the company that sold the test, which she did not divulge at the time, and (2) that the gains students are expected to make on the tests—at least at the high school level—are actually within the margin of error of the test grading, which makes the MAP appear pretty much statistically useless.
During the comment period at the school board meeting tonight, there were parents and students there to talk about their usual concerns—school lunches, siblings attending the same schools, etc. But the high-energy crowd was there for the folks testifying about the MAP test boycott. When they spoke, the room often erupted again into chants of "SCRAP THE MAP!" much to the seeming chagrin of the school board members. A memorable bit of testimony was given by Garfield High School reading specialist Mallory Clarke, who said she talked to a student just today who was grateful the teachers were boycotting the test. Clarke asked her why, and she said she hated taking it; she was just learning English and she didn't understand the questions. But, the student went on, she didn't mind it too much: "My favorite letter is c," she said, so she just bubbles in the c for all the answers. And: "I get a really high score!" she told Clarke.
"Threatening our livelihoods, before they even met with us, [is] egregious," Hagopian, who has a one-week old son, told me after the meeting. He's been calling Banda's office, and says "he didn't even get back to me." But are teachers backing down? No way, says Hagopian. "There's a lack of dialogue and process that needs to be restored," he said. "The teachers of Garfield are committed to building that alliance." These teachers have specific problems with this specific test and they want to see those addressed: "[The district's] response was so vague... We've done our homework on this." And, he says, teachers know what's best for their students. "We're facing climate change, endless wars, economic disasters. I need these kids to think outside the box. We need critical thinkers."
The coalition in opposition to this test is quite broad, and their reasons are varied. Special education and ESL teachers are frustrated by how poorly the test serves their students and worried that if the test is used to evaluate teachers, their students will be exiled from currently inclusive classrooms so teachers' test scores don't suffer. Librarians are furious that the libraries are off-limits during testing, rendering the collections they so lovingly curate totally worthless. Parents, students, and teachers find the tests to be annoying time-wasters administered multiple times a year, taking the place of classroom learning.
On the other hand, a meaningful coalition in support of this test does not exist. The only people who have spoken in support of the test are school board members, a few of whom gave toe-the-line comments today about how some people find the test useful, and Superintendent Banda, who has ordered teachers to administer it and yet so far has refused to sit down with the teachers themselves to discuss the issue.
After the meeting, I spoke with Garfield High School student body president Obadiah Terry, who told me the students are in full support of the teachers. "We don't take it seriously," he says of the test. "She just said they have to be positive role models," he said, referring to school board president Kay Smith-Blum's admonishment to the crowd before the comment period. "But [the school board and superintendent] are not being good role models" because "they're not talking" to these teachers.