Wednesday, February 27, 2013

For education, against the test

    Jesse Hagopian is doing more than teaching history. He is answering history's call.

    With Hagopian in the lead, most of the teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School have made recent history's most important statement about what drags down public education in 2013.

    They have refused to give the test.

    In this case it is MAP, the Measure of Academic Progress. The teachers say it is time-consuming, costly and serves no true diagnostic purpose.

    Since Garfield teachers declared their boycott weeks ago, other Seattle teachers have joined the protest. The school district has threatened them with their jobs. Tellingly, however, it also has said it might re-examine the test.

    For all who value public education, let these teachers win their battle.

    As one who was educated in public schools, and whose children were as well, I cannot express sufficiently my impression that those who are most gung-ho about testing are least interested in true quality public schools.

     To the contrary, they are most interested in assailing those schools based on false comparisons, then promoting schemes like school vouchers and for-profit charters.

     In truth, and in their heart of hearts, these people don't buy into the whole concept of public education, and certainly not education in a classical, Jeffersonian sense. They want to treat schools like factories that dispense facts and spit out workers. It's all about keeping up with the smoke-belchers of China and Taiwan.

    Or maybe it's about stoking the burners of some of the most profitable factories on our shores: those dispensing standardized tests and curricula and test-prep materials. 

     The test in question in Seattle is developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association. It uses interactive computer software to supposedly demonstrate student readiness. Seattle teachers don't get to see the results, but they are evaluated, in part, based on them.

    Administered in addition to Washington's mandated state test, MAP is different from many state tests because it is low-stakes, at least for the students. Their grades are not affected by the results, and they often give half-hearted efforts, though teaching careers may hang on them.

     Beyond that matter, what is affected, say the teachers, is the "astounding" amount of instructional time lost — five hours per school year for each student.

     Ah, yes. Time. How often have we heard policymakers talk about the need for longer school days, or more of them? How about less time spent on tests and test prep?

    A Texas grade school teacher told me that she lost the equivalent of 16 instructional days each year to state tests, locally mandated test-prep drills and benchmark tests.

     Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers did readers a service by focusing on the time and cost of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — FCAT.

     It reported on how school districts spend untold time and thousands of dollars on benchmark tests, called "testing of the test" — students as guinea pigs to see if the state's demands are or can be met by overtaxed teachers. On top of $62 million spent by Florida are unfunded demands  school districts assume to administer FCAT.

    Dollars and instructional times lost: None dare call it waste.

    The sad thing is that so many citizens salute this toilet-paper banner under the guise of "achievement" and "excellence." The fact is that no standardized test meant for everyone of every imaginable learning level can deliver on such pretenses. Is that so hard to understand?

    The teachers of Garfield High understand. They understand that what they are trying hard to achieve — true education – is being filleted with a long sword on the altar of standardization.

    So, horrors, instead of playing along, they have said, "We will remain at our posts and teach." What say, America? Off with their heads?

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

No comments: