Not On Our Watch, Part 3: Educators, parents achieve a ‘measure of progress’ in Seattle


Photo: Seattle students and families supported educators’ boycott of the MAP test.

By Amanda Litvinov

This is the final case study in a series of three. Read about Florida parents and educators here, and a Kansas coalition here.

There are no better advocates for students than parents and educators. Who is in a better position to know where kids excel and where they struggle, and what the school community needs to help them succeed?

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But there are other adults who have an awful lot of influence on students’ lives, too, including lawmakers and lobbyists.

For too long, self-proclaimed reformers have had the ear of policymakers at every level. They’ve sold their “reform” snake oil in the form of voucher schemes, unaccountable charter outfits and manic testing regimes that put schools in peril rather than provide meaningful assessment.

Enter the resistance, led by parents and educators speaking up on behalf of kids.

Teacher, activist Jesse Hagopian

“Sometimes people believe other people are apathetic. But what we found out is that it’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they often don’t think their actions will have impact,” said Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian.

When the educators at his school took a stand against a harmful standardized test, parents, students and educators from other schools rallied around them.

“It was the most incredible thing to see an entire staff lose their fear,” he said. “So much about education today is about fear—it’s about what happens if my scores are low, what happens if my school fails.”

By standing up against a test they knew was wrong for the entire school community, said Hagopian, “we were denying the education reformers the lifeblood of their reform, which is fear.”

The threat: A grossly inadequate standardized test violated student rights, menaced educator careers and stole precious classroom time. Former Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson implemented the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) to the tune of $4 million (it was later revealed that the superintendent also sat on the board of the company that produced the test, which was deemed an ethics violation by the Washington state auditor).

A meaningful assessment tool is worth investing in—but the MAP test was not that tool. It wasn’t even aligned to the state curriculum, which meant students were routinely tested on things they wouldn’t learn until the following year. Yet MAP scores were used to evaluate teacher effectiveness. And the problems didn’t stop there—the district’s special education committee declared the test a violation of special education students’ civil rights.

The action: Educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School voted unanimously in January that they would no longer subject students to the MAP test, and instituted a boycott that garnered immediate support from parent and student groups. Eight other Seattle schools soon joined the boycott.

Jesse Hagopian rallies the crowd at the MAP test boycott rally in February.

“After we came up with a plan of action with a specific goal, our teachers lost their fear,” said Jesse Hagopian, a U.S. and world history teacher and a leader of the effort.  “They were willing to do anything to fight for a better learning environment. The threat of a 10-day suspension without pay was nothing.”

Parents, educators and other concerned community members showed their support at a rally event organized by the Seattle Education Association in support of the Garfield educators on Jan. 23. Arizona educator and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel called it a “defining moment.”

Mom and activist Sue Peters

“Parents are used to trusting that these tests are valuable to teachers and given for good reasons, but if you find out that’s not the case and that teachers are being forced to do things that aren’t even useful, then we need to stand up and advocate for them,” said Seattle parent Sue Peters, co-founder of Parents Across America and vocal supporter of the boycott.

Peters has written that while parents were told that the MAP test would help teachers tailor their instruction, instead it cost schools weeks of lost classroom instruction and as much as $11 million in district funding.

The victory!

First, the Seattle boycott inspired others around the country to speak loudly against the misuse and excessive use of tests.

“After our boycott was launched, we saw walkouts in Portland, Philadelphia, 8,000 parents in Long Island, 10,000 marching in Texas,” said Hagopian. “We saw how it launched a movement for educational justice.”

Finally, after a semester-long standoff, the current Seattle schools superintendent declared the MAP test optional at the high school level, freeing the Seattle educators to create their own, more meaningful assessment.

The takeaways: The victory in Seattle took educators, parents and students all advocating to “scrap the MAP.”

“The power of parents, teachers and students working together gave us an undeniable basis from which to advocate for education,” said Hagopian. “And we were able to show that this wasn’t about denying accountability… We’re not just against the MAP test. We put forward a vision for quality assessment. We met for months and did lots of research on best practices.

“Next year, we’re implementing our own assessment.”

–Mary Ellen Flannery contributed to this report.

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