The Seattle MAP Flap

Shame on the teachers of Garfield High. Shame on them for resisting a modicum of personal responsibility for student learning. Shame on them for obfuscating what their resistance is really about. And double-shame on them for likening their selfish crusade to the noble acts of resistance of the Civil Rights era.

As you probably know, the teachers of Seattle’s Garfield High School are “boycotting” the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which is required by the district. Ostensibly, their protest is about the overuse of tests, the instructional time that those tests devour, and the culture of soulless data-driven instruction that animates today’s brand of school reform.

Yet it’s hard to square their complaints with the actual test they decry, for the MAP is precisely the type of “good” assessment that many educators claim to favor. It’s instructionally useful; it provides instantaneous feedback to teachers and students alike; and it’s not used for high-stakes decisions on issues pertaining to students and schools.

The real reason the Garfield teachers attack the MAP, one must presume, is because it’s a small part of Seattle’s new teacher-evaluation system. (If students show low growth on the MAP for two years in a row, it triggers a “closer look” at their teacher by the principal—pretty benign by national standards.) That’s a smart move on behalf of district officials; because the test is “computer adaptive,” it can pinpoint precisely where students are on the achievement spectrum and can give teachers full credit for any progress they help their charges achieve over the course of the school year. (If a ninth grader moves from the sixth-grade level to the eighth-grade level, the MAP can detect it, while most state assessments cannot.)

What the teachers are really protesting, it seems to me, is the use of student test scores in educator evaluations. And to be sure, there’s a legitimate case to be made that we are rushing too rapidly into such evaluations. But of course, that’ s not what the teachers say they are worried about.

It’s hard not to hear the echoes of this fall’s teacher strike in Chicago, in which educators insisted that the walk-out was about “air conditioning” and “working conditions” when everyone knew it was really about jobs—namely, what would happen to the thousands of tenured teachers whose schools are likely to close in coming years.

I don’t doubt that some Garfield teachers have personal reservations about the overuse of tests in today’s education system. I can also believe that the MAP, on top of the state tests, creates a heavy testing burden on teachers and students alike. And I would never blame teachers for crying foul about evaluation systems designed on the fly.

But how about a little honesty and perspective, people? To compare this episode to Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts, as the Seattle teachers union president did the other day, is to cheapen the historic battle for true civil rights. This is a skirmish about teacher work protections as our system lurches toward greater accountability. It’s no heroic effort to overcome the forces of evil. And it’s certainly not just a flap about the MAP.

-Mike Petrilli

This blog entry first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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