The Seattle MAP Flap

By 01/29/2013

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Shame on the teachers of Garfield High. Shame on them for resisting a modicum of personal responsibility for student learning. Shame on them for obfuscating what their resistance is really about. And double-shame on them for likening their selfish crusade to the noble acts of resistance of the Civil Rights era.

As you probably know, the teachers of Seattle’s Garfield High School are “boycotting” the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which is required by the district. Ostensibly, their protest is about the overuse of tests, the instructional time that those tests devour, and the culture of soulless data-driven instruction that animates today’s brand of school reform.

Yet it’s hard to square their complaints with the actual test they decry, for the MAP is precisely the type of “good” assessment that many educators claim to favor. It’s instructionally useful; it provides instantaneous feedback to teachers and students alike; and it’s not used for high-stakes decisions on issues pertaining to students and schools.

The real reason the Garfield teachers attack the MAP, one must presume, is because it’s a small part of Seattle’s new teacher-evaluation system. (If students show low growth on the MAP for two years in a row, it triggers a “closer look” at their teacher by the principal—pretty benign by national standards.) That’s a smart move on behalf of district officials; because the test is “computer adaptive,” it can pinpoint precisely where students are on the achievement spectrum and can give teachers full credit for any progress they help their charges achieve over the course of the school year. (If a ninth grader moves from the sixth-grade level to the eighth-grade level, the MAP can detect it, while most state assessments cannot.)

What the teachers are really protesting, it seems to me, is the use of student test scores in educator evaluations. And to be sure, there’s a legitimate case to be made that we are rushing too rapidly into such evaluations. But of course, that’ s not what the teachers say they are worried about.

It’s hard not to hear the echoes of this fall’s teacher strike in Chicago, in which educators insisted that the walk-out was about “air conditioning” and “working conditions” when everyone knew it was really about jobs—namely, what would happen to the thousands of tenured teachers whose schools are likely to close in coming years.

I don’t doubt that some Garfield teachers have personal reservations about the overuse of tests in today’s education system. I can also believe that the MAP, on top of the state tests, creates a heavy testing burden on teachers and students alike. And I would never blame teachers for crying foul about evaluation systems designed on the fly.

But how about a little honesty and perspective, people? To compare this episode to Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts, as the Seattle teachers union president did the other day, is to cheapen the historic battle for true civil rights. This is a skirmish about teacher work protections as our system lurches toward greater accountability. It’s no heroic effort to overcome the forces of evil. And it’s certainly not just a flap about the MAP.

-Mike Petrilli

This blog entry first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

Comment on this article
  • phillip cantor (@phillipcantor) says:

    When we gave the NWEA MAP tests at our school student scores varied so widely over the course of the year that the only conclusion I could come to was that the test was completely unreliable and not a valid measure of very much at all. A single student grew by a full year’s expected gains in a few months and then lost all those gains and more by the end of the year. Another student in the same class had exactly the opposite results… massive losses and then outrageous gains. Roller coaster score patterns weren’t the odd exception, they were the norm. (this became very obvious when my students all graphed their scores from test to test) Giving these tests 3 times per year – occupying up the computer labs at school for weeks at a time – is not a good use of school resources. The tests were not a good way to measure my teaching. When I got my first results I used them to try to improve instruction and group students… as I was trained to do…. when I got my second set of results what was I supposed to do? They didn’t make any sense. These tests are not the objective measures so many assume they are.

  • nik says:

    I think the bigger problem that you are missing is that a test is never a decent evaluation of performance. It should be up to the administration and parents to recognize a teacher’s ability. Not a standardized test. It is a waste of school time.

  • Happy Elf Mom says:

    I’m sure the teachers have their reasons. As a parent, I have my own for encouraging my children to make their own decisions about this test. No-one should be forced to take a test against his will.

    My son eventually decided that even though the system is evil, that he would take the MAP test (here, the Missouri MAP). We just learnt that they stick children in gifted classes or not as a result of the test. Now he has another decision to make: benefit from this testing he took reluctantly, or not. He had only decided to take it because he saw his teachers felt it so important.

    These are not always easy decisions. It shouldn’t be assumed that the decisions always come from the top – down. Every family has a choice to make.

  • nik says:

    In addition, if the teacher is following the school curriculum and the school texts, and the MAP does not cover what the kids are learning in school, then why should the teacher be penalized for that? Why do these MAPs only hold the teachers accountable? Where is the accountability for the superintendent and the school board? They are the ones who make the decisions regarding curriculum and texts. Not the teachers. They are the ones who know the good teachers from bad. They are the final decision makers. It just seems that everyone is holding the wrong people accountable.

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