Category Archives: MAP test boycott

“More Than a Score” TEDx Talk: Jesse Hagopian on the uprising against high-stakes testing and for a meaningful education

I recently gave this talk titled, “More Than a Score,” for the TEDx  Rainer event at Seattle’s McCaw Hall theater.  In this talk I advocate for the great uprising against reducing our children to a test score and I make an argument to opt in to authentic assessments–not only because it will better engage students, but also because the future of our society and planet depend on it.

JesseOpenArmsJesse Hagopian is a high school history teacher and associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine.  Jesse is the editor of, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.  Follow him on his blog, IAmAnEducator.com or on twitter, @jessedhagopian

We are opting our first grade son out of the MAP test—here’s our letter explaining why

MyTeacherIsMyCompass

The infamous MAP test is set to be administered in my son’s school this week. The MAP is a computerized test meant to measure students in math and reading. Seattle Public Schools initially required MAP kindergarten through high school, with multiple testing periods per year. In 2013, Garfield High School launched a boycott of the MAP test and numerous schools joined in refusing to administer the test. By the end of the year the district announced that it would  no longer be requiring the MAP test at the high school level. Since then, the increasing pressure of the opt out movement and scrutiny on the role of high stakes testing in our education system have continued to reduce the use of the MAP test in the Seattle Public Schools.

mapTest_LibraryThe opt out movement has pointed out that the MAP test consumes too much class time, monopolizes computers and shuts down school libraries, is not linguistically or culturally appropriate for English language learners, and has a questionable validity (consider this research from https://scrapthemap.wordpress.com: PowerPoint: The MAP test).

Most recently, the district reduced the number of times per year that kindergarten through 2nd grades are required to administer MAP from 2-3 times per year to only once a year. However, there continue to be high stakes attached to MAP that can make it difficult for schools to reduce the number of times it is administered.

For example, schools that receive desperately needed extra levy funds from the city can lose funding if their test scores are not high enough. This is an egregious misuse of standardized test scores. Money for vital programs serving children in high poverty schools should never be cut based on a test that was not designed to be used for high stakes decisions.

Given all the specific problems with the MAP test, and the larger issue of misuse of standardized testing in general, my wife and I wrote this letter to our school’s principal opting our son out of the test this week:

Dear Principal,

Happy New Year! We hope you had a restful break.

We are writing to opt our first grade son out of all MAP testing for this 2015-2016 school year.

We are opting him out of standardized testing because we have seen the way an over-emphasis on scores has distorted what matters most in elementary education–such as creativity, being a good friend, communicating emotions, and problem solving. Ranking students based on test scores in the early grades can damage the self-esteem of late bloomers, and can distort the higher scoring students’ perceptions of themselves in relationship to their peers–these were our experiences growing up and we don’t want these scores to interfere with our son’s development. One of the most exciting aspects of our son’s education is the Spanish immersion program that has cultivated his love for language and laid the foundation for him to communicate with many more people across cultures and around the world – and yet none of this will be measured by the MAP test.

Opting out is a difficult decision this year, because of the way the scores can be used for high-stakes decisions around funding. It deeply saddens us that policy makers would deny funding to a school for any reason, but particularly one so narrow and tangential to real learning. Our son has excellent teachers and we think there is no substitute for their assessment of his progress.

We are deeply committed to our school community and look forward to working with you on these issues in years to come.

Thanks!

 

PBS News Hour: “At a school with a history of social protest, this teacher is leading an opposition to ‘excessive testing’”

PBS_News_JesseA couple of weeks ago, Gwen Ifill and the PBS News Hour crew flew to Seattle.  They spent one day following me and one day following the richest person who ever lived, Bill Gates, to ask us about our ideas on education reform.  I was simply shocked to hear that they would be running an interview with me in tandem with one from Bill Gates.  That’s because most of the media believes that teachers are the last people you should talk to about education–what would we know about teaching and learning?  It is common practice to only ask Billionaires–who have never attended a public school–what to do education.  But I was granted this important opportunity to explain how standardized testing is destroying education and why we are in the midst of the largest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. History.  The program aired nationally on Tuesday evening and was able to capture many of the insights I have gained in working with so many others in building this movement.

One note: In the program it mentions that I began my teaching career through the Teach for America (TFA) program.  That is true.  But what was not explained, is that I have become an out spoken critic of TFA–an organization that is relentless in its advocacy of reducing the intellectual an emotional process of teaching and learning into a test score.  But TFA certainly isn’t alone in it’s attempt to reduce students to data points.  As I tell Gwen Ifill on the News Hour,

It’s become a multibillion-dollar industry to sell exams to children in order to rank and sort them. And it’s become really a test-and-punish model.

Consider this case against the testocracy we make in this PBS News Hour special–and then join in the struggle.  We have nothing to lose but a Pearson test–and an a meaningful education to win!

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/school-history-social-protest-teacher-leading-opposition-excessive-testing/

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Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013.  Jesse is an associate editor for the acclaimed Rethinking Schools magazine and is the editor of, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing (Haymarket Books).

Scrap the MAP Test: My Kindergartener Joins the Opt Out Movement!

Jesse_MTAS_eventLast week the Seattle School District told my kindergarten son to take the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

Given my intense relationship with this specific standardized test–an exam that has forever altered the course of my life–this was a particularly unsettling moment for me. As an authentic assessment activist, I had helped organize a boycott of this test at Seattle’s Garfield High School, I edited the book More Than a Score to tell the story of this movement against the MAP and the subsequent uprising against high-stakes testing, and I speak regularly around the country to share the lessons of the movement to “Scrap the MAP.”

I had long been committed to a fight for public education, but now it just got personal. Now they were trying confine my own boundlessly vibrant son into a test score bubble.

I had felt a great sense of accomplishment in our 2013 MAP test boycott, which resulted in a decisive victory when the superintendent ended the school year by announcing an end to the MAP test requirement for the high schools.  Now, however, the announcement that it was MAP test week for my son felt a cruel irony. It was hard to have to face the fact that, despite how powerful our movement had become, we hadn’t defeated the test altogether and elementary school students were still being subjected to it.

The idea that our school system implements standardized testing in the early grades to make students “career and college ready” (in the language of the Common Core standards) is an utter absurdity–especially when you consider that one of the most popular career choices for a 5-year-old is being Spider Man.  And yet high-stakes are attached to the the MAP test–already in kindergarten!–using it as an arbitrator of who will be placed on the advanced track.  In schools around the nation, there is an astonishing proliferation of the use of standardized testing in the early grades, which is having a frightening impact our our children. Children are increasingly experiencing severe stress from these tests, to the point where administrators now have a protocol for what to do when a child throws up on a test booklet–something that comedian John Oliver highlighted on his program Last Week Tonight when he said, “Something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of students will vomit.” As a recent report from Defending the Early Years points out kindergarten literacy standard will simply crush the spirits of the late bloomers, linking school with “feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and confusion.”scrapmapsea

The new Common Core standards, and the tests meant to measure student’s progress toward them of them, are dramatically developmentally inappropriate and punish the students for developing in different ways and at different rates. As Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emeritus of early-childhood education at Lesley University and a senior adviser for Defending the Early Years, wrote in the book, More Than a Score,

When the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) came out, many of us in early childhood were alarmed. There had not been one K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional on the committees that wrote and reviewed the CCSS. We could see that the standards conflicted with the research in cognitive science, neuroscience and child development that tell us what and how young children learn and how best to teach them. The pressure on young children to learn specific facts or skills increased, even though these expectations are unrealistic, inappropriate, and not based in research or principles of child development.

Moreover, young kids often struggle with the basic mechanics of answering questions on the new computer administered tests.  As one Seattle elementary teacher wrote about Common Core testing this year,

Our school does not have a technology teacher and not all students have computer access at home, so many students have not learned computer or keyboarding skills. I watched more than one student hitting the space bar over and over because they did not know how to go down to the next line to start a new paragraph.

These tests have led to drastic cuts in recess, arts, music, physical education, and other critical components to a robust education of the whole child–and this is especially true in schools the serve predominantly low income and students of color, as our education system has become singularly obsessed with “raising achievement.”  Again, Professor Carlsson-Paige:

Young children learn actively through hands-on experiences in the real world. They need to engage in active, playful learning, to explore and question and solve real problems. As children do this, they build concepts that create the foundation for later academic success. And perhaps even more importantly, through active, play-based, experiential learning, children develop a whole range of capabilities that will contribute to success in school and life: problem solving skills, thinking for themselves, using imagination, inventing new ideas, learning social, emotional, and self regulation skills. None of these capabilities can be tested but they are life-shaping attributes that are ready to develop in the early years.

And as the Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner pointed out in a Boston Globe Globe article titled, “Is the Common Core Killing Kindergarten”, “Overuse of didactic instruction and testing cuts off children’s initiative, curiosity, and imagination, limiting their engagement in school.”

For these reasons, and due to the bitter struggle we waged during the 2013 boycott, the MAP test is practically a cuss word in my household.  So when I asked my son if he wanted to take the MAP, it should be no surprise that he told me he was against taking it.  He had obviously been paying close attention to this mass uprising against standardized testing, because he replied,  “I take the tests my teachers makes, but not one that someone who doesn’t know me makes.”

With that, we wrote him an opt out letter, and my son joined the movement. Several other families opted their kids out of the test as well, and the parents took turns helping to provide alternative activities for the kids during the the test.

My son was especially thrilled to go to school the day he was going to help teach a lesson to his fellow five and six-year-old dissidents during the opt out period.  His idea for the lesson was for a parent to read a book to the students about Satchel Paige, the legendary Negro League pitcher, and then they would make baseball cards of their own, complete with the stats on the back. Miles brought the sports page in, as well, to help them with the stats and to show them how to read a box score. My son opened the lesson by telling everyone about the Negro Leagues, a league started by Black people when the Major Leagues wouldn’t let them play, and then the parent read the book. However, before they could get to the baseball card activity, the rest of the class returned from MAP testing early, unable to actually take the test because of a glitch in the computer program. His class had lost the morning of instruction.

IMG_2180On the day the test was rescheduled, the students who opted out helped to make hats for the end of the year promotion ceremony to mark their passage to first grade.  I asked my son what he thought of his experience opting out of the test.  He said, “It was fun.  I got to teach my friends about something, and we got to make our graduation hats…I didn’t have to worry if I was going to fail.”

I can tell you kindergarteners never looked better in mortarboard caps then when they wore them at their joyous promotion ceremony this week.  Maybe next time they will decorate them with the slogan, “Scrap the MAP!”?

“Voices of a People’s History,” 10th anniversary edition features testing resistance & MAP Boycott!

Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s updated primary source companion to A People’s History of the United States includes Amber Kudla’s anti-standardized testing graduation speech and Jesse Hagopian’s reflection on the Seattle MAP test boycott.

Since its publication in 2004, Voices of a People’s History of the United States has played a vital role in my classroom—not only revealing the voices of social justice from the past so often choked into lifelessness by the standard issue corporate textbooks, but also inspiring my students to take actions of their own. Over the semesters and over the years, I repeatedly point students towards this collection of primary sources when they want to understand the ideas that helped propel social change: Bartolome De Las Casas’ “The Devastation of the Indies;” Tecumseh’s “Speech to the Osages;” Fredrick Douglass’ “What to the slave is the forth of July;” Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?;” Eugene Deb’s statement to the court upon being arrested for speaking out against WWI; Helen Keller’s “Strike Against War;” Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit;” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War;” Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots,” and many others.

One of the many great actions that students at my school participated in was the 2013 boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. When teachers announced that year they would refuse to give thescrapmapsea deeply flawed MAP test, the student government voted unanimously to support that boycott. When teachers wouldn’t give the test, the school district decreed that the building administration would have to pull students out of class and march them off to the computer labs to take the test. It was then that students staged a sit-in—in their own classrooms!—refusing to have their class time wasted by a test that was not relevant to what they were learning in class.

I am at a loss for words to describe what it means to me that the newly updated, 10th anniversary edition of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, includes my essay reflecting on the meaning of the MAP test boycott and how it has contributed to an uprising for education justice around the country. It is also beyond words that Voices includes a speech by Amber Kulda, a young women I came in contact with through the editing of my book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. Amber was the valedictorian of her class and was asked to give the graduation speech. She tried to get out of it, but the principal wouldn’t let her. So she used the occasion to deliver and uproariously funny and deeply moving address about why she wasn’t the smartest person in the class just because she had high grades and test scores—and why our society needs to think outside the bubble test.

Those in the movement to defend our schools from the corporate education reformers should read these essays on education justice in this new addition of Voices; but if you want our movement to win—to truly defeat the testocracy once and for all—you should read all the entries in the book to develop a political analysis of how war, racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, and other interlocking systems of oppression degrade our world and our education system. Then you raise your own voice!

Below is the announcement for the book:

10th anniversary edition of Voices of a People’s History also includes many of my modern day heroes, including contributions from war resister Chelsea Manning, climate and economic justice advocate and author Naomi Klein, the immigrant rights activists Dream Defenders, and the unparalleled journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Paralleling the twenty-four chapters of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Voices of a People’s History is the companion volume to the national bestseller. For Voices, Zinn and Arnove have selected testimonies to living history — speeches, letters, poems, songs — left by the people who make history happen but who usually are left out of history books. Zinn has written short introductions to the texts, which range in length from letters or poems of less than a page to entire speeches and essays that run several pages. Voices of a People’s History is a symphony of our nation’s original voices, rich in ideas and actions, the embodiment of the power of civil disobedience and dissent wherein lies our nation’s true spirit of defiance and resilience.

Here in their own words are Frederick Douglass, George Jackson, Chief Joseph, Martin Luther King Jr., Plough Jogger, Sacco and Vanzetti, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Twain, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Leonard Peltier, June Jordan, Walter Mosley, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, and Malcolm X, to name just a few of the hundreds of voices that appear in Voices of a People’s History of the United States, edited by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove.

The 10th anniversary edition will feature new voices including whistleblower Chelsea Manning; Naomi Klein, speaking from the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Liberty Square; a member of Dream Defenders, a youth organization that confronts systemic racial inequality; members of the undocumented youth movement, who occupied, marched, and demonstrated in support of the DREAM Act; a member of the day laborers movement; and several critics of the Obama administration, including Glenn Greenwald, on governmental secrecy.

The Garfield High School Assessment Committee VS the Testocracy: We know how to run the schools better than billionaires

On Thursday of last week I attended a meeting of the Garfield High School Assessment Committee.

A report on one of many after school meetings may seem mundane.  A committee of educators tasked with discussing assessment might appear innocuous.  Yet that gathering of fifteen or so educators sharing their experience, expertise, and asking questions about alternatives to standardized testing was nothing short of sedition against a Testocracy that has attempted to silence teachers as it implements corporate education reform.

This team of dedicated educators forming the Garfield High School Assessment Committee was born out of the MAP test boycott last school year, which resulted in the Seattle School District backing away from its threat of suspending the boycotting teachers and ultimately—a year ago this month—forced the district to make the test optional at the high school level.  From the very beginning of the MAP boycott, teachers at Garfield High School asserted that our strike against the test had nothing to do with shirking accountability to our students’ learning.  We said that assessments are essential to teachers to help us understand where the student is in their zone of proximal development in order to scaffold their learning to advance their understanding of a given concept. And many of us simultaneously asserted that standardized testing, and the MAP test in particular, is a clumsy form of assessment that often hides more than it reveals about student knowledge–particularly the thought process and how a student arrived at particular answer.  Worse, these tests primarily assess students’ ability to eliminate wrong answer choices and are too puny an instrument to measure collaboration, passion, imagination and a myriad of other qualities that are vital to the development of the whole child.

The Assessment Committee began the meeting by asking teachers why they were at the meeting and what types of assessments they were interested in learning about.  As the list grew on the white board, so too did my confidence that collaboration of educators could enhance the education of our students–and that our collective action to assert the power of authentic assessment could serve as a beacon to educators around the country looking to reclaim classrooms from a Testocracy intent on grafting a business model onto education that reduces the intellectual process of teaching and learning a single score. Some of these teachers’ ideas included:

  • Project-based learning coupled with performance-based assessment
  • Interdisciplinary studies along with portfolios
  • Student generated rubrics to assess their own work
  • Students taking group assessments
  • Teachers working collectively to assess student work

As my colleague Rachel Eells told the Times, “The MAP protest was really just the start of a deeper dialogue about how to we assess students in a meaningful way and how we use assessments to meaningfully inform instruction.” Garfield’s Assessment Committee has been meeting regularly all year and recently reported back to the staff at Garfield High School about a partnership our school has formed with a network of schools called the New York Performance Standards Consortium that has a waiver from the New York Regents exams and instead utilizes a sophisticated method of Performance Based Assessment. The Seattle Times recently ran an article about Garfield High School’s partnership with the New York Performance Standards Consortium,”New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model.” 

I first became aware of the Consortium schools while attending a conference of the Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. last year.  I had the pleasure of attending a panel with two teachers and a student who explained the power of their approach to performance based assessments that allowed students to do research over time, develop a thesis, and present their findings to a panel comprised of teachers, administrators, parents and community members.  The student spoke movingly to how this approach to evaluation helped rescue the importance of school for him, and the teachers revealed that the Consortium Schools have higher graduation rates as compared with other demographically similar public schools in New York.  After the presentation, I was delighted to meet the student and teachers, and they expressed their support for the MAP test boycott. Avram Barlowe, one of the founding teachers of the Consortium Schools asked me if Garfield teachers would be interested in attending workshops at the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

Avram then put me in touch with Phyllis Tashlik, one of the directors of the program, and over the course of the year our principal and a few of our teachers have made multiple trips to the Consortium Schools and have brought back with them invaluable insights into the learning process and assessment methods. This is what real education reform looks like: educators collaborating to share best practices to retake their profession from billionaires and their flunkies who know little about the craft of teaching.

“An Act of Conscience”: Teachers at New York’s Earth School boycott Common Core Tests!

Teachers at the Earth School in NYC who protested in support of the Seattle MAP test boycott in 2013

Last spring I was invited to the Earth School in the East Village of New York City to speak at a forum about the lessons of the MAP test boycott that I helped to organize in Seattle. Earth School 4th and 5th grade teacher Jia Lee, along with insurgent teacher union activists in MORE and parents in Change The Stakes, helped organize the event and a powerful conversation about organizing test resistance ensued.

Now, a year later, you can imagine my elation when I received an email from Jia announcing that three teachers at the Earth School declared to their administration and public schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña that they will not proctor Common Core state standardized tests this year — or ever — saying in a letter that they “can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children.”

 

https://jessehagopian.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/3b2df-screenshot2013-04-12at1-57-55pm.png

Flyer from my visit to the Earth School last year to talk about resisting standardized testing.

They go on to write, “As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.”

They are joining a wave of boycotts and opting out of standardized tests from parents, students and teachers—including the teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Elementary School in Chicago who are refusing to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

Earth School Teacher Jia Lee

Teachers at the Earth School have helped form the organization Teachers of Conscience, a group of public school teachers in New York City concerned about market-based reforms and the future of public education. Teachers of Conscience has authored a remarkable letter and position paper that powerfully unravels the lies behind the standardized testing craze, explains the authentic assessment alternative, and demonstrates exactly why educators should be the people consulted about education policy before billionaires.

 

Read the letter below. Sign the petition in support of these teachers. Then join the movement.

Teachers of Conscience

April, 2014

“The ongoing wars, the distortions of truth we have witnessed, the widening gaps between rich and poor disturb us more than we can say; but we have had so many reminders of powerlessness that we have retreated before the challenge of bringing such issues into our classrooms. At once, we cannot but realize that one of our primary obligations is to try to provide equal opportunities for the young. And we realize full that this cannot happen if our students are not equipped with what are thought to be survival skills, not to speak of a more or less equal range of literacies. And yet the tendency to describe the young as “human resources,” with the implication that they are mainly grist for the mills of globalized business is offensive not merely to educators, but to anyone committed to resist dehumanization of any kind.”

– Maxine Greene, In Search of a Pedagogy

Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,

We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform. We recognize that there has been a persistent and troubling gulf between the vision of individuals in policymaking and the work of educators, but we see you as someone who has known both positions and might therefore be understanding of our position. We find ourselves at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education. We can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children. We will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking. We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.

As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.

The policies of Common Core have been misguided, unworkable, and a serious failure of implementation. At no time in the history of education reform have we witnessed the ideological ambitions of policymakers result in such a profound disconnect with the experiences of parents, teachers, and children. There is a growing movement of dissatisfied parents who are refusing high-stakes Common Core testing for their children and we are acting in solidarity with those parents. Reformers in the State Department of Education are now making gestures to slow down implementation and reform their reforms. Their efforts represent a failure of imagination — an inability to envision an education system based on human development and democratic ideals rather than an allegiance to standardization, ranking, and sorting. State policies have placed haphazard and burdensome mandates on schools that are profoundly out of touch with what we know to be inspired teaching and learning. Although the case against market-based education reform has been thoroughly written about, we feel obliged to outline our position at length to address critics who may see our choice of action as overstepping or unwarranted. You will find a position paper attached to this letter. We are urging you, Chancellor Fariña, to articulate your own position in this critical and defining moment in the history of public education. What will you stand for? What public school legacy will we forge together?

Sincerely,

Colin Schumacher, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Emmy Matias, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

Jia Lee, 4th/5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 364, Earth School

 

 

These Seattle Teachers Boycotted Standardized Testing—and Sparked a Nationwide Movement

[This article was written for Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine.  To support many of the MAP test boycott leaders who are now running for office in their union, visit http://socialequalityeducators.org/ ]

Parents, students, and teachers all over the country have joined the revolt to liberate our kids from a test-obsessed education system.

Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, at left, and Jesse Hagopian, Garfield history teacher and a leader of the school’s historic test boycott. Photo by Betty Udesen.

by Diane Brooks

Life felt eerie for teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High in the days following their unanimous declaration of rebellion last winter against standardized testing. Their historic press conference, held on a Thursday, had captured the attention of national TV and print media. But by midday Monday, they still hadn’t heard a word from their own school district’s leadership.

Then an email from Superintendent José Banda hit their in-boxes. Compared with a starker threat issued a week later, with warnings of 10-day unpaid suspensions, this note was softly worded. But its message was clear: a teacher boycott of the district’s most-hated test—the MAP, short for Measures of Academic Progress—was intolerable.

Jittery teachers had little time to digest the implications before the lunch bell sounded, accompanied by an announcement over the intercom: a Florida teacher had ordered them a stack of hot pizzas, as a gesture of solidarity.

“It was a powerful moment,” said history teacher Jesse Hagopian, a boycott leader. “That’s when we realized this wasn’t just a fight at Garfield; this was something going on across the nation. If we back down, we’re not just backing away from a fight for us. It’s something that educators all over see as their struggle too. I think a lot of teachers steeled their resolve, that we had to continue.”

Parents, students, and teachers all over the country soon would join the “Education Spring” revolt. As the number of government-mandated tests multiplies, anger is mounting over wasted school hours, “teaching to the test,” a shrinking focus on the arts, demoralized students, and perceptions that teachers are being unjustly blamed for deeply rooted socioeconomic problems.

“You’re seeing a tremendous backlash,” said Carol Burris, award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York City and an education blogger for The Washington Post. “People are on overload. They are angry at the way data and testing are being used to disrupt education.”

Last spring, New York became the first major state to implement Common Core State Standards testing, a key element of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative. Burris has compiled data showing a dramatic increase in the time children and teens spend taking New York state tests. Fifth-graders are the hardest-hit, with testing time ballooning from 170 minutes in 2010 to 540 minutes in 2013.

Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University in New York City, estimates that parents of about 10,000 students across the state joined the “opt-out” movement in April, refusing to submit their youth to Common Core tests. “Probably the largest test revolt in modern American history,” he said.

Inspired by New York’s grassroots revolution, Naison co-founded the Badass Teachers Association (BAT), which by mid-January had 36,443 members and chapters in all 50 states. Florida has the largest representation, with more than 1,575 BAT teachers.

“It takes a lot of courage to speak out. This group says, ‘You’re not alone.’ If we stand up for one another, we can speak back,” Naison said. “We have brilliant people who know how to create websites, fan pages, a YouTube channel. We’ve got this amazingly flexible organization.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave the opt-out movement a public-relations gift in November, when he labeled the emerging bloc of mainstream opponents to Common Core testing “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Duncan previously had blamed Tea Party extremists for Common Core’s bad rap. And indeed, conservative Republicans are among the program’s greatest critics. They see an alarming federal usurpation of control over local schools and are deeply suspicious of standardized curriculum requirements that they fear promote a liberal agenda.
But on this issue, they’re joined by progressive Democrats—including the BAT contingent—who are outraged that teachers and schools might be blamed and punished for low test scores. Multiple-choice tests on a handful of subjects can’t measure a teacher’s impact on students’ lives or provide meaningful insights into student learning, they say.

“Instead of dealing with issues of poverty, racially isolated schooling, a lack of social services in communities, this [policy] is built on test scores,” said Burris.
Or, as BAT co-founder Priscilla Sanstead says in her Twitter banner: “Rating a teacher in a school with high poverty based on their student test data is like rating a dentist who works in Candyland based on their patient tooth decay data.”

How did we get here?

David Labaree, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, traces the federal government’s creeping control over classrooms back to the Cold War era, when the Sputnik launch triggered the Space Race. In the ’70s and ’80s, fears that the Russians were getting ahead of the United States gave way to worries about the Japanese and Germans. Now it’s the Chinese, he said.

The ’70s marked the first time “high stakes” tests began to emerge, with impacts on grade promotions and graduation requirements, Labaree said. Until then, teachers had a great deal of autonomy over textbook selection and classroom practices; schools were considered successful if graduates found jobs and social mobility was taking place.

The standards movement promoted a narrow emphasis on academic curricula—mostly math and English, plus some science and social studies—as a key element of the U.S. race for economic and political supremacy in the international arena, he said. The modern trend toward “high stakes” tests, which can carry significant impacts on teachers’ careers, has profoundly changed what is—and isn’t—taught.

“It broke down the classroom door,” Labaree said. “It puts a huge pressure on teachers to toe the line and start teaching to the test. It’s changed the nature of a teacher’s work in a way that’s quite devastating. ‘Look, I’m part of a machinery here to raise test scores. I’m not really a teacher any more, I’m just an efficient delivery system of human capital skills.’ That’s the new language.”

Jesse Hagopian photo by Betty Udesen

Race to the Top

The “accountability” movement got a big boost in 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act. For the first time, all public schools receiving federal funding were required to test students every year in grades three through eight, plus once during high school, using standardized state tests in math and reading.

President Barack Obama and Secretary Duncan unveiled the Race to the Top contest in 2009. To be eligible for a share of the program’s $4.35 billion in grants, states were required to adopt the Common Core standards for math and language arts. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia fully signed up. Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska declined any participation. Minnesota partially joined, rejecting the math standards.

Among the requirements: using test results to evaluate teachers.
Now many states are rethinking their commitment to Common Core. Eight states have reversed, suspended, or significantly delayed implementation. Legislatures in other states continue to debate the issues.

Some states are backing out because of technology issues. Oklahoma, for instance, found that just one in five schools had enough Internet bandwidth and computers to administer the tests, a state official told Education Weekly. And the state projected that classroom time devoted to taking the tests would jump from two or three hours to nine hours.

Seattle’s Garfield High teachers cite similar technology issues in their litany of testing complaints. The MAP test, for instance, forced the closure of all three Garfield computer labs for four months of each school year.

Seattle teachers’ contracts allow MAP results to be used in their evaluations, even though an official from the company that created the test has expressed concerns about the appropriateness of such use. The school district administration says teacher evaluations do not currently include MAP scores.

Garfield’s testing coordinator, Kris McBride, planted the seeds of revolution in December 2012 when she told frustrated remedial-reading teacher Mallory Clarke, “You can refuse to give the test!” The two women first sought—and won—support from the language arts and math departments, then asked for the backing of the entire teaching staff. With a few abstentions, Garfield teachers unanimously voted to support a boycott of the January-February cycle of MAP tests. “This was the crux: It was just immoral to rob the students of that [classroom] time,” Clarke said. “The feeling in the building was just simmering under the surface, waiting for something to do about it.”

Garfield teachers sent Banda’s office multiple letters, emails, and voicemails after their December vote, with no response, McBride said. So on Jan. 10, 2013, they staged their press conference.

Support for the boycott

The national ripples were immediate.

“Bravo to the teachers of Garfield High. We support you and thank you for your courageous stand,” wrote Jane Maisel, a leader of the anti-testing group Change the Stakes, in an email to Hagopian.

A February 6 National Day of Action in support of Garfield teachers inspired rallies across the country. In Chicago, for instance, parents at 37 schools gathered signatures on anti-testing petitions. Banda’s office was “bombarded” with emails, Hagopian said.

An International Day of Action on May Day brought support from teachers and parents in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom, he said.

In the weeks and months following the Garfield declaration, teachers at six other Seattle schools joined the MAP boycott. When Banda’s office ordered school administrators to give the test anyway, local families added power to the revolt, with about 600 students opting out of the winter tests.

Banda convened a task force to study the issue, and in May he announced a partial reversal of district policy: MAP testing now is optional for the district’s high schools. Despite the early threat of 10-day unpaid suspensions, no teachers have been punished for refusing to administer the MAP.

“This wasn’t just a victory against one test,” Hagopian said. “This was a victory for a key concept: that teachers should be consulted about issues like testing and what kinds of learning are best for our students—before districts go to high-paid consultants and billionaires for solutions.” (In January 2014, Hagopian announced he was running for president of the Seattle teachers union to build on that victory.)

Meanwhile, Education Spring was busting out across the country, with rallies, marches, test boycotts, and teach-ins. The most dramatic: an estimated 10,000-plus educators and parents from all over New York converged at the state capitol in Albany for a June 8 “One Voice United” demonstration.

Hagopian has been sought out by schools and local unions across the country; he has traveled from Hawaii to Florida telling the Garfield story and helping other educators resist standardized tests.

More effective assessment

During his travels, Hagopian learned of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a coalition of 28 high schools across the state. Coalition schools track student progress with performance-based assessments. Rather than take standardized tests, students do in-depth research and papers; learn to think, problem-solve, and critique; and orally present their projects. He says this approach not only provides more effective student assessment, but also emphasizes critical-thinking skills over rote learning.

Last fall, two Garfield teachers and principal Ted Howard visited consortium schools at the Julia Richman Education Complex, in Manhattan, and returned inspired.
Successful students have a true joy for learning, Howard said, which the modern focus on testing has stripped from classrooms. Consortium schools support teaching as an “art form,” he said, rather than a robotic exercise to raise test scores.

“We’re dealing with human beings and human behavior, and sometimes that’s not quantifiable,” Howard said. “Students [at consortium schools] are saying, ‘Hey, I really want to be here.’”

In February he plans to send two more teachers to New York to visit another, larger consortium high school.

“I got into education for the long haul,” Howard said. “Hopefully, we can get together to change education, to make it better. It won’t change overnight, so we have to stick with it. We speak for students who don’t have a voice, so we have to hang in there.”
Next fall, Washington will be among many states launching the Common Core standards and tests. Opt-out activists across the nation predict that a second, even more vibrant Education Spring is nigh.

“It’s gonna to be huge,” said BAT’s Naison. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 100,000 [students opting out] in New York next spring.” He also predicts significant uprisings in California, Florida, Illinois, and perhaps Texas.

Now he’s planning an epic March on Washington—an upbeat three-day event culminating with a July 28 march to the U.S. Department of Education.

“It’s going to be a very festive,” he said, with flash mobs, plays, songs, and a band. “Imagine 10,000 teachers, parents and kids—some in costumes, some playing instruments, with huge banners—demanding that teacher and student creativity be unleashed.”

“It’s going to be the party of the year,” Naison said. “It’s to celebrate what teaching and learning can be, and to shame the people who are taking the fun and creativity out of it.”

______________________________________

This article was written for Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine.

Diane BrooksDiane Brooks is a journalist and communications consultant.  She was a newspaper reporter for many years in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, and now lives in Everett, Wash. priestdi.com.

Chicago teachers at Saucedo Elementary vote unanimously to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test: We scrapped the MAP! You can Ice the ISAT!

Boycottvote_photo

Ballots from the unanimous vote of teachers at Saucedo to boycott the ISAT

A beautiful thing happened today.  Teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy voted unanimously to refuse to administer the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

Since teachers at Garfield High School—and then several other schools in Seattle—voted to boycott the MAP test last year, there has been an explosion of activism against high-stakes, standardized tests. And yet outside of Seattle, there had not yet been another school where the entire staff collectively raised their voice and boycotted a test—that is until now.

The brave teachers at Saucedo Elementary are taking up the struggle and using the power of collective action to refuse to waste students’ valuable class time with another destructive test.  As the teachers have pointed out, getting rid of the ISAT would leave the students with still a plethora of standardized tests, including the MAP tests, new Interim Benchmark Tests, REACH Performance Tasks, ACCESS tests, NAEP tests, pilot Common Core tests and more. Already, hundreds of parents at Saucedo have pledged to opt their child out of the ISAT.

With the Parents and teachers united in this struggle, Saucedo is now on the front lines in the battle for authentic assessment.  They will need our support.  Please take a minuet and sign the petition in the defense of the Saucedo educators—then send it on to everyone you know who believes that education should be about critical thinking, imagination, joy, and collaboration—not about rote memorization and eliminating wrong answer choices.

From my experience in helping to organize the MAP boycott in Seattle, here is the advice I have for the Saucedo teachers:

Corporate education reformers will use their wealth to publicize the idea that you teachers are selfish and your refusal to give the test will damage students.  They will complain that teachers don’t want to be held accountable and that high-stakes standardized is the key to improving education. Don’t listen to them.  They are pushing these tests because it is a multibillion dollar industry and because reducing the intellectual process of teaching and learning to a single score is the centerpiece of their plan to label the public schools as failing and then push their privatizing agenda. Instead, listen to the many thousands of parents, students, and teachers around the nation that are supporting you in this struggle to assert that our children and educators are more than a test score.

The corporate education reformers, and the politicians they have bought, will issue threats of discipline for your audacity in refusing to hand the schools over to testing companies.  They threatened us in Seattle when we refused to give the MAP test, but we showed that the power of solidarity can overcome the powerful.  Not a single teacher was disciplined and the MAP test was made optional through our struggle.

We scrapped the MAP.  You can Ice the ISAT!

On the one-year anniversary the historic MAP test boycott, teachers launch campaign in the upcoming Seattle Education Association (SEA) union election.

MastheadToday, I am excited to announce that I am entering the election to run for president of my union, the Seattle Education Association.  It is truly an honor to have been nominated to run for president on the Social Equality Educator’s “Respect” slate of candidates–an unparalleled team of educators in Seattle, running for officer and executive board positions, who are dedicated to achieving the schools Seattle’s children deserve.  If you live in the Seattle area, please consider attending our MAP test boycott anniversary celebration and campaign kick off event on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 4:30 p.m., at the Garfield Community Center (2323 E Cherry St, Seattle). You can RSVP at: https://www.facebook.com/events/584713934950158/

We would be grateful for your support of our campaign by making a secure donation on the Social Equality Educator’s Pay Pal Account located on the side bar of our website. With your help we can win this election and just education system!

Please read the announcement for our campaign:

J A N U A R Y 21, 2 0 1 4

On the one-year anniversary the historic MAP test boycott,

teachers launch campaign in the upcoming

Seattle Education Association (SEA) union election.

Social Equality Educators (SEE) will introduce its “Respect” slate of candidates and education platform for the upcoming SEA union election at a January 30th Garfield Community Center forum.

The SEE Respect candidates for office will include a coalition of MAP boycott leaders, members of current SEA Board of Directors, award-winning teachers, teachers new to the profession, and veteran educators, including:

  • Jesse Hagopian, “Secondary Teacher of the Year,” Garfield High School, leader in MAP           boycott—For SEA President
  • Marian Wagner, National Board Certified Teacher, Salmon Bay K-8,
    current member of SEA Board of Directors—For SEA Vice President
  • Dan Troccoli, current Vice President of the SEA Substitute Association, founding member of SEE—For SEA Treasurer
  • And a slate of other candidates for the SEA Board of Directors

What: MAP Boycott Celebration/SEE Respect union candidates announcement

When: Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 4:30 p.m.

Where: Garfield Community Center (2323 E Cherry St, Seattle)

For more information:

hagopian.jesse@gmail.com

www.socialequalityeducators.org

 “We have a bold vision for educating Seattle’s children,” said Jesse Hagopian, teacher and Black Student Union advisor at Garfield High School, and SEE’s “Respect” candidate for president in the upcoming Seattle Education Association election. “This month marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement by my colleagues at Garfield that they would defend students by refusing to administer the deeply flawed MAP test. That movement galvanized parents, students, and education advocates across the city and around the nation.  Today, educators throughout Seattle—many of whom were inspired by our stand for authentic assessment—are organizing to bring this movement for an equitable, high-quality education into our union election.”

In January of 2013, teachers at Garfield High School began the “MAP test boycott,” a movement that was supported by the student body government and the PTSA.   The boycott then spread to several other schools in Seattle, including Orca K-8, Chief Sealth International High School, Ballard High School, Center School, and Thornton Creek Elementary—while solidarity with the boycott spread around Seattle, the nation, and then around the world.   The MAP test boycott by Seattle’s educators has been widely credited with having played transformative role in the debate around standardized testing in the U.S.—as was recently recognized in national media, including The Nation, Alternet, ColorLines magazine, and The Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet.”

“It was an extremely difficult decision to run for Vice President of the SEA because I don’t want to leave the classroom.  I love the challenge of improving our world through teaching the next generation, but the education of our youth is not being supported systematically,” said Marian Wagner, 5th grade teacher at Salmon Bay K-8. “I can’t ignore the thunderous cry of phenomenal educators who are not being heard.  I am agreeing to step in and run on their behalf.”

The Social Equality Educators will host an award ceremony on January 30th to recognize the leadership and courage of teachers participating in the boycott. Teachers and prominent community leaders fighting for social justice will also speak briefly, followed by the announcement of SEE’s Respect slate of candidates.

“The Respect slate of candidates is made up of teachers who support valid, reliable assessment, responsible evaluation, and full funding for the education of Seattle’s students,” said Dan Troccoli, the current Vice President of the SEA Substitute Association.   Educators will elaborate on the Respect platform at the event.

“As a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools and a SEA union representative for many years, I have never been so excited about an election before because of SEE’s ‘Respect’ slate of candidates,” said Roberta Lindeman, a teacher at Chief Sealth High School.  “I’m confident that these educators will best represent Seattle’s students and educators, will fight for student and teacher assessment based on best practices, and will bring a voice of reason to education reform.”

Join us as we celebrate this important victory and launch the next

campaign for education justice in Seattle!

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