Teachers Refusing to Give Tests: Why We Should Support Garfield High School

Dr. Emery Petchauer explains why the community should stand behind teachers who refuse to administer standardized tests in our schools.

The teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have made national news by collectively deciding not to administer a district-required standardized test called the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP. Among other reasons that the teachers outline, they object to the test because its criteria of use (as set by the test designers) has been violated, the test includes content that the students have not learned, and it lacks appropriate modifications for special education students and second language learners. Perhaps most fundamentally, the test does not affect student grades or graduation status in any way, and therefore—quite naturally—few of them take it seriously. What useful information can be learned from a test that students have no immediate reason to take seriously?

The current state of education testing is as if pharmaceutical companies had the power to prescribe drugs directly to patients, and doctors had no say in this matter. What the teachers of Garfield High School did was the equivalent to a doctor telling a misguided drug company that, “No, my patient does not need this. She needs something else.”

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When teachers push back against testing practices such as these, they are often portrayed as lazy opponents to educational progress who are only interested in lessening their workload. This portrayal could not be further from the truth. In fact, capitulating to the testing requirements of many districts and states—some of which swallow up months of instructional time throughout the school year—gives teachers less work. During what can total well over a month of the school year, teachers have nothing to plan for and literally sit in a room, watching students take a test. Lazy teachers give into this testing regime; committed ones fight it.

Teachers are also portrayed as being against all testing. To make such a claim is like saying that a doctor is against taking a patient’s blood pressure. Doctors want helpful measures of patient health, and teachers want healthy measures of student learning. Teachers are simply against flawed assessments that have little educational value, which are, unfortunately, common today. A flawed assessment is one that does not yield useful information to teachers or schools, or one in which the content is a mystery, thus not allowing teachers to help their students be prepared for it. And a flawed assessment is one in which the specific uses of its results are unknown. Doctors do not perform tests on patients for unknown purposes or just because, and we should not test students for these reasons either.

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Teachers who push back against testing regimes are also portrayed as radicals, rogue individuals using the educational equivalent of a filibuster.  The truth is that the actions of the Garfield teachers are not isolated at this present moment in the United States. Nationwide, there is a growing movement to taper standardized tests into a more controlled and purposeful use. Teachers, parents, students, professors, and other concerned community members are pushing to make tests serve schools rather that schools serve tests and the multimillion-dollar industry that makes them. These groups include parents in Texas, administrators in New York , and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. For courageously joining this movement, Garfield High School teachers should be supported by every citizen who wishes to improve the education of this country.

Feature photo: albertogp123/Flickr

Photo: dcJohn/Flickr


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About Emery Petchauer

Dr. Emery Petchauer is assistant professor of teacher development and educational studies at Oakland University. He is the author of Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives: Elements, Embodiment and Higher Edutainment”. (Routledge)

Comments

  1. marian meade says:

    Bravo teachers!

  2. Given all the recent studies indicating that female teachers have a strong bias against male students, I find it impossible to support this. If female teachers already disregard test scores in order to punish male students for typically male behavior, this looks like the only way to correct for that. We have too few males who get into college — many of whom don’t even try because they see a system rigged against them in grade school. The last thing we need is to give teachers more leeway to indulge in their misandry.

    So testing it is.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    There are good reasons and bad reasons to oppose standardized testing, just as there good and bad reasons to use it. Tests like the MAP can be useful tools, but not at the expense of other tools. It’s like mandating that the only tool you can use to build a house is a nailgun. Incredibly useful, but not by itself.

    Many teachers who oppose large-scale standardized tests do so because the tests can be used unfairly to make personnel decisions. Teachers can be promoted or demoted based on their students’ test scores, even though there are all sorts of external factors at work that teachers have no control over. School districts tend to act like every group of students are consistently the same, so therefore the only thing that affects their scores is the teacher. When, in fact, there is a lot of variation from class to class and school to school.

    Another reason is the monotony of teaching to the test. Not only does teaching to a standardized test mean less work in many cases, the work that’s left tends to be incredibly tedious and boring, even more tedious and boring than the usual over-determined curricula. The only thing less monotonous is the grading, which can be done by a machine. Bubble sheet after bubble sheet, and you never have to write on a kid’s paper ever again.

    Multiple choice tests are not great preparation for life. The only thing it really prepares them for is casting a ballot. I mean, I passed my multiple choice driving test with flying colors. Therefore I must be a very good driver, right?

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