There are occasions when I think that if standardized tests were allowed to make up only a very small component of a teacher’s evaluation, they wouldn’t be so bad. Usually those occasions last only briefly. On the surface, incorporating current standardized tests into teacher and school evaluation may seem rational (depending on your perspective). But the further you wade into what we know about the limited efficacy of these tests to measure student achievement, and the unique problems associated with unique tests, the more this notion becomes unstable, and eventually collapses.
Enter Garfield High School in Seattle. Its teaching staff has gained international attention for unanimously voting (with four abstentions) to refuse to continue using the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test (see stories here and here), despite the district’s ongoing expectation that it do so.
Sarah Heller McFarlane of Rethinking Schools recently emailed out the letter Garfield teachers wrote to SPS outlining their rationale. I submit it here as evidence for why standardized tests, particularly like this, have no business being included in student, teacher, principal, school, or district evaluation.
December 21, 2012
To Whom It May Concern:
We, the Garfield teachers, respectfully decline to give the MAP test to any of our students. We have had different levels of experiences with MAP in our varied careers, have read about it, and discussed it with our colleagues. After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again. This letter is an objection to the MAP test specifically and particularly to its negative impact on our students. Here are our reasons:
- Seattle Public School staff has notified us that the test is not a valid test at the high school level. For these students, the margin of error is greater than the expected gain. We object to spending time, money, and staffing on an assessment even SPS agrees is not valid.
- We are not allowed to see the contents of the test, but an analysis of the alignment between the Common Core and MAP shows little overlap. We object to our students being tested on content we are not expected to teach.
- Ninth graders and students receiving extra support (ELL, SPED, and students in math support) are targets of the MAP test. These students are in desperate need of MORE instructional time. Instead, the MAP test subtracts many hours of class time from students’ schedules each year. If we were to participate this year, we would take 805 students out of class during 112 class periods. The amount of lost instructional time is astounding. On average students would EACH lose 320 minutes of instructional time. This is over 5 hours of CORE class time (language arts and math) that students are losing. We object to participating in stealing instructional time from the neediest students.
- In an appeal of the Board’s 2010 decision to renew the MAP contract, a parent group raised concerns about the negative impact of this test “on non-English speakers, Special Education students, and minority and low income children.” These concerns were never addressed nor were the claims refuted. Imagine a native Somali student with limited English skills, sitting in front of a computer taking an evaluative reading test that will no doubt be confusing and overwhelming to the student. The test is supposed to determine the student’s reading level, but without taking into account the student’s language challenge or the student’s limited time in the United States, which makes it almost impossible to understand the context of some passages. For these students and our students with IEPs, the test does actual harm. The students feel stupid yet are being forced to take a test that has NO benefit to them or their educational goals. We object to a test that may violate the rights of groups of students for whom schooling already constitutes an uphill battle.
- In addition to students losing class time to take the test, our computer labs are clogged for weeks with test taking and cannot be used for other educational purposes. For example, students who have a research project no longer have access to the computers they need to further their exploration into their research topic. This especially hurts students without computers at home. We object to our educational resources being monopolized by a test we cannot support.
- We see that our students do not take the test seriously as they know that it will not directly impact their class grade or graduation status. They approach it less and less seriously the more times they take it. Therefore, we see achievement scores go down after instruction. We object to spending scarce resources on a test that is peripheral to our students’ education.
- The MAP test was originally introduced by then superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson while she was a board member of the Northwest Evaluation Association, the company that sells the MAP. When Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired, the MAP somehow survived the housecleaning. We object to having to give a test whose existence in our district is the result of scandal.
- Even the NWEA itself, the parent company to MAP, has advised districts to carefully restrict the use of the test and its results. NWEA also cautions to ensure 100% random selection of students enrolled in any course if the test is used for evaluation and to take into consideration statistical error in designing evaluation policies. NWEA says that problems become “particularly profound at the high school level.” None of these or other criteria urged by NWEA has been met. We object to being evaluated by a test whose author suggests extreme caution in its use and warns against valid legal action if the test is used in personnel decisions.
- The Seattle Education Association passed a resolution condemning the MAP test that reads, “Whereas testing is not the primary purpose of education…Whereas the MAP was brought into Seattle Schools under suspicious circumstances and conflicts of interest…Whereas the SEA has always had the position of calling for funding to go to classroom and student needs first…Be it Resolved that…the MAP test should be scrapped and/or phased out and the resources saved be returned to the classroom.” We object to having to give it after such an opinion from our collective voice has been registered.
We are not troublemakers nor do we want to impede the high functioning of our school. We are professionals who care deeply about our students and cannot continue to participate in a practice that harms our school and our students. We want to be able to identify student growth and determine if our practice supports student learning. We wish to be evaluated in a way so that we can continue to improve our practice, and we wish for our colleagues who are struggling to be identified and either be supported or removed. The MAP test is not the way to do any of these things. We feel strongly that we must decline to give the MAP test even one more time.
The Teachers of Garfield High School