Teacher: Why I won’t give students high-stakes standardized test

I received the following email from a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, where nearly all of the teachers are refusing to give students mandated standardized district tests called the Measures of Academy Progress.

The Garfield teachers say the tests are flawed and don’t evaluate learning. After their boycott was publicized last week, teachers at a second Seattle school, Ballard High, joined in. You can read my post about that here.

One of the reasons that there is growing opposition to high-stakes standardized tests is that increasingly states are requiring districts to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students, an assessment method that experts say is unreliable.

Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser, a social studies teacher at Garfield, wrote the following email to me to explain his position about the boycott and standardized testing. Anybody who thinks the teachers did not give this serious thought or are trying to avoid being evaluated should read this.

Hi Ms. Strauss,

 

I’m a teacher at Garfield, and would like to offer some thoughts on what I think this MAP test refusal should lead to.  First, thank you for your coverage of the announcement the other day.  I’m heartened to see that the media are taking our resolution and our complaint seriously, and to see national media coverage confirms my judgment that this issue matters.

 

At the press conference, the teachers who spoke were careful to stress that this is about the MAP test’s flaws, and that we teachers are not afraid to be evaluated and not afraid of testing our students.  I’d like to elaborate on that.

 I’m not attempting to speak for all teachers or even all of Garfield’s faculty here — just clarifying the bigger picture I see for our current decision.

 

We don’t have consensus on a good way to know if students are learning.  Teachers like methods such as portfolios or performance assessments (such as a debate or an election simulation), but these are hard to standardize, so it’s hard for outside observers to interpret the results.

 

Standardized tests CAN be an okay way to assess student learning, but many of the tests that get used have serious flaws.  These problems are in no way unique to the MAP test.  There is considerable research that shows convincingly that high-stakes standardized tests often have cultural bias, including class and race biases.  And so on.

 

The problem we have today is we don’t have a really good test that we can trust.  Yet we need one, because of the advantages of standardization, including the cost and ease of administering them (compared to, say, debates).  So we use the tests we have, despite their flaws.

 

Now, when we criticize the MAP test and say “No sir, we refuse to give it,” people ask what test we should use instead.  And here’s my point after all this set-up:  We need to seriously and carefully examine any test we use for judging student learning and evaluating teachers, to make sure we can trust it.  We haven’t done that as a field and as a society.  So we use tests that we know are flawed.

 

My personal goal with the MAP test refusal isn’t to start a revolution in education.  But if we simply substitute another deeply flawed test, we have failed completely.  Because the real point of the refusal is to point out that these tests are not ready to use for high-stakes purposes.  We should look critically at the HSPE, the state-mandated end of course exams, and so on.  Doing so will reveal that many of the tests we’ve been using are seriously flawed.

 

So while I don’t refuse on principle to give any and all standardized tests, I do think that it’s going to be hard to find one that’s actually ready.  Which will lead to other questions such as whether standardized tests in a diverse society are in fact a good way to evaluate student learning or teacher effectiveness.

 

Thank you for your time.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about the bigger picture for this testing refusal.

 

Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser
Social Studies, Garfield High School

 

 

Correction: An earlier version referred to the teacher as a female.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · January 12, 2013

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