The recent Garfield High School protest against mandatory MAP testing is still shaking up the national conversation about education, even after the school district carried out the testing against the nearly unanimous will of the faculty, students and parents.
MAP tests, administered several times a year, have no bearing on students’ grades, and the students know it. This is one of the many arguments school faculty have made against the test: Students know it won’t affect their GPA, so many don’t try. However, the results could affect teacher evaluations.
The New Yorker recently dove into the conversation, essentially arguing that the debate comes down to our trust in teachers.
That low-stakes status is precisely the problem, as far as the Garfield teachers are concerned. McBride writes that the students know the test doesn’t affect their grades or class standing, so they don’t invest much effort in it. And because it is an externally developed assessment, which the teachers say largely fails to align with district and state standards (N.W.E.A. disputes this point), there is no preparation for it. In sum, students are taking an exam that doesn’t really count, on material that may or may not be relevant, and producing results that may have nothing to say about them or their future. If you subscribe to the notion that education is preparation for life, then these students have received their first primer on the soul-crushing routines of bureaucracy.
They then go on to say that the debate boils down to two differing opinions of teachers in general:
Testing skeptics believe that teachers need a certain degree of professional autonomy to be effective. They worry about the blind faith placed in tests, and wonder if creativity must be a casualty of competency. But if you fear that teachers can be a weak link in education, liable to hold students back, then standards and tests shore up the system. David F. Labaree, a professor of education at Stanford, has written about how linking teachers’ evaluations to their students’ performances assures that the reformers’ policies, curriculum, and standards make their way through the classroom door. According to this philosophy, the marginalization of teachers is necessary to raise the floor for students.
In this context, then, the MAP exams do matter. They are another means of enforcing reforms. At the end of February, despite support for the boycott from Garfield’s student and parent organizations—pretty much the school’s entire community—the Seattle district compelled administrators to carry out the exam and, according to the teachers, threatened “consequences.” Raising the floor is a laudable aim, no doubt, but it’s futile if it also weakens a school’s foundation of motivated, professional educators.
UPDATE: The Seattle Times reports today that the Seattle School District is relaxing some of its rules on MAP testing ahead of May task force report:
Ninth-graders who have passed the state’s reading exam will not have to take the MAP reading test, too, officials announced at a meeting Thursday.
Officials also are recommending that high schools use the MAP’s algebra test for students enrolled in algebra classes, rather than a more general math test that’s been required in the past.
The district’s senior staff made the adjustments even as a task force made up of teachers, principals, parents and community members weights whether the district should even continue to give the MAP next year. The task force has been asked to give its recommendations by the beginning of May.