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And So Ends the Seattle Testing Boycott Saga—for Now

Guest post by Ross Brenneman

Day 145. Soft blows the breeze of change.

On December 21 of last year, the teachers of Seattle's Garfield High School staged a boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress test, a low-stakes, district-mandated assessment that the faculty claimed to be unfair. In response to that concern and the ensuing districtwide protest, Seattle superintendent José Banda vowed to form a committee (right out of Emergency Public Relations 101) to study what to do with MAP.

Teachers' concerns included that the test, a computer-adaptive assessment, did not align well with standards and took up too much time on the school computers. Also, since teachers didn't know what the test covered, they believed it shouldn't have been used as part of performance review.

This week, Banda emailed the district with his office's plan of action, based on the committee's findings. For at least the 2013-14 school year, those actions include:

  1. Continued use of MAP for students in grades K-8
  2. High schools may now opt out of the MAP test, but must "submit a plan to the district that specifies how they will assess and monitor the progress of students who are below standard in math or reading."
  3. Administering MAP in the fall and spring, instead of winter and spring, though having the option of a winter test, if so desired.
  4. Not using MAP as the sole decider in determining a student's academic career. (MAP's creator, the Northwest Evaluation Association, has for the length of this process been adamant that MAP is but one tool schools can use to design programs.) This was more or less the focal point of the report.

The committee report recommends renewing use of MAP for the upcoming school year, but also suggests a new task force dedicated to finding assessment alternatives for 2014-15 and beyond. (Yes, a committee is recommending a new committee. This will surely please the Committee Committee.)

The 31-member task force included a roughly equal distribution of administrators, district leaders, teachers, community members, and parents, as well as a librarian and a student. One of the boycott's leaders, Kris McBride, sat on the committee, as did Garfield's principal, Ted Howard, and one of Garfield's students.

While Banda had initially pledged to suspend teachers who did not administer the test earlier this year, he later decided not to do so, and instead had the school administration give the test.

What actually happens in Seattle now, though, is almost irrelevant outside Seattle. National groups quickly seized on the boycott as a means to protest all high-stakes testing (against the stated—if not necessarily actual—intentions of the boycotting teachers). In turn, the backlash against testing has extended to a backlash against the Common Core State Standards, as some opponents say that they go hand in hand. This creates an unusual alignment with conservatives against common standards, as some conservatives believe them to be a de facto federal mandate. (One day we'll make a giant diagram of who believes what.)

(Kidding: We already did.)

But the central committee finding, that a standards-aligned MAP test can be a useful tool for testing student growth at the K-8 level, will surely please the NWEA. It also means that MAP would theoretically continue to play a part in teacher evaluation, which the report did not specifically address.

Here's the full Seattle committee report. Or, if you want, here's the abridged version.

Ross Brenneman is a contributing writer for Rules for Engagement.
You can also follow Ross Brenneman on Twitter.

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