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.”
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.
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