by Tim Reed
When teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle took a stand for their students earlier this year, it touched the hearts of educators across the nation and sparked a national movement.
Students and educators alike know that off-the-shelf assessments that are not aligned with the curriculum or goals of the school are not the answer. Creating an assessment system that really helps all students learn requires the involvement of educators, parents, students and the entire community. Educators, with respected voices in their communities and front-line experience with these tests, need to make their voices heard! That’s why NEA has partnered with Teach Plus to help build a national database with rankings and reviews of required tests where you can rate and review the tests your own students are required to take.
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For more than a decade now, self-proclaimed education reformers have promised that standardized tests would provide accountability through detailed information needed to improve student performance and close achievement gaps. But research has shown that not only has the focus on testing not moved the needle in improving student performance, but standardized tests not aligned with state standards or the district curriculum are all too often misused to make decisions about students’ futures and to attack educators and schools.
Students and educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School recently decided to stop talking, and start acting. With the support of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) and the Associated Student Body Government (ASB), teachers boycotted Seattle’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. This unanimous decision by teachers has brought the attention of parents to a subject that has long plagued educators: educators want evaluations that really help them identify student growth and learning, not corporate “reformer”-backed tests that do little beyond funneling dollars meant for public schools to private companies.
One of the corporate reformers’ favorite spokespeople, Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of Students First, recently attacked the students, teachers and parents at Garfield High School, arguing that her corporate backers know best what leads to true student learning, rather than educators themselves. Putting aside the fact that Rhee’s stint in DC public schools was marred by widespread allegations of cheating on the very tests she supports so strongly, even a quick look at her arguments brings up a number of questions.
Jesse Hagopian, one of the teachers at Garfield High School, recently responded to Rhee’s criticism at CommonDreams.org:
[Michelle Rhee] began her piece: “Seattle public school students should pay attention. They’re getting a front-row, real-world lesson in how the actions of adults can distract from what’s best for students.” But don’t get your hopes up — this wasn’t a long overdue acknowledgment of the events surrounding the testing scandal when she was commanding the DC public schools.
With only a little investigation of the news of the MAP test boycott, Rhee would have found that the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) and the Associated Student Body Government (ASB) at Garfield High School — the school where the test boycott of the test began on January 10th — had voted unanimously to support teachers in the boycott of the MAP test.
When the Seattle School District attempted to go around the teacher boycott of the MAP by forcing the school administration to pull kids out of class and march them off to the library to take the computerized test, hundreds of students showed letters from their parents opting them out, while many of the rest simply refused to participate on their own. Of the 810 tests scheduled at Garfield, only 184 valid tests were recorded.
In the end, the boycott of the winter round of the MAP primarily reflected the will of students and parents, who agreed with teachers that student time was better spent learning in the classroom, and that library computers were better used for student research and writing rather than testing. Had she acknowledged this, Michelle Rhee would have had some difficult questions to answer.
If students vote unanimously to boycott a test, is it still okay to put their demands and interests first, or does putting students first mean ignoring their democratic decision making?
If the parent organization at a school votes unanimously to support the teachers in boycotting a flawed test, is it okay for the parents to guide their children, or should students disregard their parents and instead follow an astro turf organization called “Students First”?
What happens when students, parents and teachers around the nation join together in common cause and protest for a meaningful education rather than the overuse of standardized tests? Is it okay to put “students first” when they agree with their teachers about what constitutes a quality education?
To help students and educators at schools like Garfield High School, where teachers are required to administer to high stakes testing that does little or nothing to help student achievement, NEA has partnered with Teach Plus to help build a national database with rankings and reviews of required tests.
Do the tests you are required to teach provide data that help you differentiate your lessons to focus on individual student needs? Are special education students overlooked? Do your assessments align with your state’s curriculum?
Reviewing your tests at Teach Plus’ Assessment Advisor will help educators and administrators across the country make rational and informed decisions about student testing, instead of just listening to the rhetoric of corporate-backed reformers. Educators know what works to help students learn, now we just need to ensure the stakeholders actually listen.