Why, as a parent, I support Garfield teachers’ opposition to excessive and inaccurate testing

By founding member, Parents Across America

Originally published in EdVoices on January 30, 2013, republished with permission

For his first school-library experience in kindergarten, my five-year-old son was not alloweseattle1d to check out a book. Instead he was placed in front of a computer with a set of headphones and told to take a test for an hour.

That was my family’s introduction to the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP®), a computerized, adaptive test for math and English, administered to Seattle public school children in grades K-9, three times a year since 2009.

Seattle parents were told the test would help teachers inform instruction and lead to personalized teaching for our children. Instead, it has cost our schools weeks in lost class-time and library access, reams of administrative busy work, and as much as $11 million in scarce district funding. It has also proven to be an unreliable tool, and one which our district is seriously misusing.

Seattle public school children are already fed a veritable alphabet soup of tests, beginning in kindergarten – MAP®, MSP, EOC, HSPE, SAT, ACT, and now, tests tied to the Common Core State Standards.

So when the teachers at one of Seattle’s most highly respected schools, Garfield High School, made national news on Jan. 10 by announcing that they will no longer administer the MAP® test, I applauded their courageous act.

Here’s why:

In 2010, a small group of Seattle parents met with the school district’s test administrators. We wanted to know more about this new test. Why did our children have to take it so often, and at such an early age? Was it intended to take so long? Did the district know that libraries were monopolized by MAP-testing for weeks at a time?

We were told that MAP® should take an hour, but kids may take longer; that it is not well suited for kids in grades K-2 because of their limited reading and computer skills; that advanced learners tend to hit the ceiling so it was of limited use for them; and yes, 40 percent of our school libraries were rendered off-limits three times a year because of MAP®.

I also learned that MAP® is not appropriate for English Language Learners or children with special needs, and that the margin of error in 9th grade exceeds the potential margin of growth.

Above all, the test is not aligned to our district’s curriculum, so it is not a relevant or meaningful assessment tool. This is the main – and legitimate – grievance of the Seattle teachers who oppose it, and a good reason for parents to object to it as well.

In fact, almost from the beginning, parents have reported bewildering swings in their children’s MAP® scores. Then in 2012, the vendor, Northwest Evaluation Association, Inc., announced a “recalibration.” It retroactively recalculated Seattle student test scores for three years, changing some by as much as 20 points. Parents jammed the district web site trying to find out what had happened to their children’s scores.

In Seattle, MAP® has morphed into an all-purpose, arbitrary gauge of most everything. The district is using it to determine eligibility for advanced learning programs, to screen fifth-graders for math placement in middle school, and now, in an apparent bait and switch, to evaluate teachers, a purpose for which even vendor, NWEA, has said  it is not designed.

MAP® in Seattle has effectively become a high-stakes test.

Endless testing is not the education experience I want for my children, and that is why I have opted my children out of MAP® for the past three years. I want them to become critical and creative thinkers, not subservient test-takers. I don’t want my children or their teachers shackled to a faulty testing product, or any standardized test, for that matter. That is why I support the Garfield teachers. That is why parents and teachers are saying: Enough – and opt out!

Sue Peters is a Seattle Public Schools parent, a founding member of Parents Across America, and the co-founding editor of the Seattle Education Blog.

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