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Teachers’ test boycott draws growing support

Frustrated with the amount of testing their students must undergo, a group of Seattle teachers is boycotting the district’s use of a computer adaptive test as a formative assessment tool—and their stand has drawn nationwide attention.

Eleven years ago, Rachel Eells saw value in the formative assessments that she and other teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School are now refusing to give their students.

Back then, she was a new middle-school teacher in the Highline School District, and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) helped her identify the strengths and weaknesses of her students in reading.

But Eells grew disenchanted with the MAP, saying it was, at best, a rough diagnostic tool that often left her with more questions than answers, especially with her older students. She couldn’t tell why, for example, a student would do well on literary terms one time, then poorly the next.

So when a Garfield colleague asked Eells last month whether she would consider boycotting the MAP, she said yes so quickly the colleague paused, a little taken aback.

But Eells didn’t need time to weigh the pros and cons.

“I don’t want to spend my time or my students’ time on something that’s not useful or beneficial,” she said.

Since Garfield teachers announced their boycott nearly two weeks ago, they have been hailed as heroes by those concerned about the overuse and misuse of assessment, although the teachers have been careful to say they’re not protesting all tests, just this one.

On Jan. 21, they received a statement of support signed by more than 60 educators and researchers, including well-known authors Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, and Noam Chomsky.

Eleven teachers from ORCA K-8 and dozens of ORCA parents joined the boycott last week, and some teachers at Salmon Bay K-8 may soon do the same. Teachers at a number of other schools have sent letters of support, as have Garfield parents and students, the Seattle Student Senate, and a number of other local and national parent and educator groups.

District officials say the protesting teachers have some misconceptions about the MAP, a set of computer-adaptive exams the district has been using for the past five years to measure math and reading skills.

They say the MAP is a reliable, valuable test that helps teachers track student progress throughout the school year.

There’s a reason why millions of students across the nation are taking MAP tests, said Eric Anderson, the district’s director of research, assessment and evaluation.

But officials also acknowledge that some of the teachers’ concerns have merit and will be discussed as part of a long-planned review of all district tests this spring.

(Next page: What teachers are saying)

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