What’s Got Seattle Teachers Fed Up and Firing Back?

Op-ed: Lisa Guisbond of FairTest shares her support for the educators and students who’ve launched a boycott.

Students and teachers are not fans of a new standardized test in Seattle. (Photo: Karl Grupe)

One thing I’ve noticed in my five decades as a public school student, then parent and education writer is that most teachers are much more comfortable complying with authority than bucking it. So when teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle voted last week to boycott a series of district-mandated tests, it was a rare step to resist the testing mania that has overtaken and damaged our public schools.

The last time teachers did anything similar was in 2009. In Los Angeles, teachers in many schools boycotted district tests.

Before that, it was Chicago in 2002, when Curie School teachers refused to administer a bad test and succeeded in getting the city to drop it. 

More: The Key to ‘How Children Succeed’: Hint...It’s Not Standardized Tests

As one Garfield High social studies teacher, Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser, put it, “My personal goal with the MAP test refusal isn’t to start a revolution in education. But if we simply substitute another deeply flawed test, we have failed completely. Because the real point of the refusal is to point out that these tests are not ready to use for high-stakes purposes.”

For the Seattle teachers, the issue is the district decision to require Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests three times per year and to use the results to judge teachers.

The testing juggernaut is out of control and teachers and students are the ones who are directly in its path.

Similarly, when Chicago teachers went on strike in September, a key issue was the misuse of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Both actions are part of a growing national resistance to high-stakes testing that includes not only teachers but parents, students, principals, school boards, and education professors and researchers. This resistance includes a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing signed by more than 475 organizations and 14,000 individuals.

In Seattle, some parents had been opting their children out of the tests even before the teachers’ boycott. These parents understand that the Garfield teachers have a powerful case against these tests and their uses.

They are not protesting against accountability but for the quality of education they deliver to their students. They say giving the tests takes too much time away from teaching and ties up computer labs for weeks. They object to being judged by MAP test results when the tests are not aligned with what they are supposed to be teaching their students, the state curriculum standards.

It may not be surprising to hear that students support a test boycott, but Garfield student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry doesn’t sound like a slacker. “We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” Stephens-Terry said. “I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class.”

Why did we at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) announce our support for the Garfield teachers this week? Basically, it’s because the testing juggernaut is out of control and teachers and students are the ones who are directly in its path.

As FairTest Executive Director Dr. Monty Neill put it, “Children across the U.S. suffer from far too much standardized testing that is misused to judge students, teachers and schools. We applaud Garfield High educators who refused to administer these useless exams and urge others to join in.”

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