Seattle Teachers’ Boycott of High Stakes Tests Spreads

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: In Seattle a teachers’ boycott of high stakes tests is spreading and gaining national support. On January 10, teachers at Garfield High announced that after careful deliberation they had voted unanimously to refuse to administer a high stakes test known as the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, to their students.

Garfield history teacher and social justice activist Jesse Hagopian says the boycott has been growing ever since.

JESSE HAGOPIAN: In Seattle we just had the announcement of another school yesterday that joined us, the summer school. They’d already had administered the MAP test for the winter, but they plan on refusing to administer the third iteration of the test this spring. And so we are really encouraged by that.

We also just got a letter from the librarians at scores of schools across Seattle that say they’re sick of their library being used as a testing center. Those voices have been added to Orca K-5 where you have several teachers, I think up to 11 now, who are joined with Garfield in boycotting the MAP test. Some teachers at Salmon Bay K-5 who are boycotting the MAP test, and several other schools who have sent in their letters of solidarity. So it’s definitely growing across Seattle, and this movement I think has just begun.

NOOR: The teachers, as well as many grassroots education activists, argue that such high stakes tests disrupt student learning, are costly and ineffective, take away valuable instructional time and staff resources, and need to be stopped. Seattle Public Schools Superintendent José Banda did not respond to TRN’s interview request but released a statement demanding all teachers administer the tests by February 22. Hagopian says the boycott will continue.

HAGOPIAN: We’ve heard from the district that they intend to enforce their MAP test policy, and they expect us to administer the test. And they say that Garfield High School has actually disrupted a process that they started where they are reviewing all assessments in Seattle, and they say we need to slow down and wait for this process to unfold.

But you know, Martin Luther King Day was on Monday. And he’s an inspiration for our struggle for sure, when he wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never’. And we believe that, and we’re not willing to wait.

NOOR: High stakes standardized tests are part of a major Obama administration initiative to rate teachers by their students’ test scores. This is an escalation of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which began taking punitive measures against schools for poor student performance. But opposition to such policies is growing. In the past year, dozens of school boards in places like Texas and Florida have passed resolutions calling for an end to high stakes tests. Meanwhile, parents have targeted testing companies like Pearson for profiting off the increased testing, and many have even refused to allow their children to take such tests.

But the current teachers’ boycott is likely unprecedented, says education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch.

DIANE RAVITCH: I don’t know of any district or any school where the entire school has said, we will not give the test. And they said it after a great deal of thought, and they knew exactly what they were doing. And they [knew] that it was bad for the children and the test was being misused, that the test [designers] said that it was being misused. And I think this was a very effective way of calling attention to all the issues that are involved in the misuse of testing.

NOOR: Ravitch recently joined figures like Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Kozol, Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis, and hundreds of others in signing a letter of support for the boycott.

RAVITCH: I think it’s very exciting that an entire staff said they won’t do it, because the more people there are who say no the harder it is for any of them to be punished. If one person says no, that person will be fired. If two or three say no they’ll be fired. But if the entire staff says no, it’s very difficult for anyone to fire the entire staff. And so what ideally should happen is that a lot of schools should say no. Because if there 20 schools or half the district saying no, then the district can’t do anything to anyone.

NOOR: The boycott is aiming to gain steam through a Wednesday rally in Seattle. Supporting students, teachers, and parents will demand that teachers taking part in the boycott not be punished for their actions.

Reporting for the Real News, this is Jaisal Noor.

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