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Seattle Teachers Spoke, a Nation Listened


Elizabeth Duffey

As in all matters educational, things are seldom as simple as they seem. Take standardized testing--educators and non-educators alike tend to cluster around two poles: Standardized testing is a force of evil that forces teachers to abandon good pedagogy and teach to the test, or standardized testing is the salvation of a fallen educational system. The reasoned position, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. However, there is no middle road concerning the administration of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Test at Garfield High School in Seattle.

Garfield High School has taken neither a safe nor a moderate position concerning the MAP test. To the contrary, the MAP test is the hill they choose to die on. The staff members (with a couple of abstentions) signed a letter stating they would not administer the MAP test. Let me be clear, though: Their position is neither safe nor moderate; it is ground-breaking, courageous, and spot-on.

Their reasons are compelling. At the 9th grade level, the test's margin of error is larger than the expected student gains. How can that kind of flawed data possibly justify the loss of instructional time? The computer-adaptive test ties up the 90 computers in the research hub of the school—the library—for weeks. The NAACP has gotten involved because students who do not have computers at home will have no access to computers at school for a prolonged period of time. The test is also used in part to judge teacher performance. With the rigorous new teacher-evaluation standards and rubrics that will become the benchmark by which all teachers are evaluated in 2015-16, using a flawed tool such as this is nothing short of silly.

Locally, the issue is a tempest in a teapot. The test started on Feb. 6, proctored by a handful of school administrators. Teachers taught classes as usual, three out of four parents opted their students out of the test, and creative students developed the "nine-second MAP" (which consists of hitting the "Enter" key successively until the end of the test). I predict MAP will quietly depart Garfield High School, never to return.

What comes of all this is amazing solidarity among teachers, students, and community, and among teachers across the nation. Although the issue here has faded into the background, what will not fade is the fact that a band of teachers spoke in one voice on behalf of quality teaching and learning, and a nation listened.

After 37 years as a high school English teacher, Elizabeth Duffey took a position as facilitator of instruction in literacy in the Tacoma Public Schools. A National Board-certified teacher, she also works as a trainer for the ELA Common Core Standards in her district and as a consultant for the College Board.

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