Fight Against Corporate Education Reform Just Beginning
One Year Since Seattle Teachers Refuse to Administer ‘Specious’ Standardized Tests.
One year ago today, my colleagues and I at Seattle’s Garfield High School set off on a bold journey: we called a press to announce our unanimous vote to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. That announcement led to what became known as the “MAP test boycott” and the boycott quickly spread to several other schools in Seattle, including to teachers at Orca K-8, Chief Sealth High School, Ballard High School, Center School, and Thornton Creek Elementary—while solidarity with the boycott spread around the nation and then around the world.
We had no idea when we took that first step where our actions would lead. Would we be ignored? We would be vilified as bad teachers? Would the math and language arts teachers in the tested subjects be reprimanded, suspended, or fired? In fact, throughout the last school year our struggle against the MAP test reached such a magnitude that the Seattle School District retracted its threat of suspending the boycotting teachers for ten days without pay and ultimately dropped its requirement to use MAP at the high school level.
I can now tell you with confidence, one year later, I know where our actions will lead: to the formation of a truly mass civil rights movement composed of parents, teachers, educational support staff, students, administrators, and community members who want to end high-stakes standardized testing and reclaim public education from corporate reformers.
Since Garfield High School’s faculty became conscientious objectors of the MAP test, thedebate in the U.S. around education has been radically remade. Where there was once an echo chamber of billionaire voices (endlessly reverberating through newspapers and corporate media outlet across the country) calling for more test-and-punish education policy—No Child Left Behind Act, then Race to the Top, and now the Common Core State Standards tests—there are now the beginnings of a social movement of students, parents, and teachers who refuse to allow the intellectual process of teaching and learning to be reduced to a single score; a score that is too often used to close schools, deny students graduation, fire teachers and bust their unions.
This movement to reclaim education from the bubble-test worshiping corporate reformers had been gaining momentum for some time; the thousands of parents, students, and teachers who marched in Texas against the then fifteen mandated high-stakes tests required for graduation; the victorious Chicago Teacher’s Union Strike that helped curb standardized testing in the district; the many principals in New York state who signed on to an open letter to parents detailing the misuses of standardized testing; the Occupy Wall Street movement offshoot, “Occupy Education,” that was organized in cities around the nation; Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr’s announcement calling for a three year moratorium on standardized testing in his district; these flashpoints signaled an increasing willingness by public school constituents to redefine education to meet the needs of students rather than line the pockets of the multi-billion dollar testing industry.
This is the context in which Garfield High School launched the MAP boycott, signaling a new phase in the movement. Commentators dubbed the ensuing uprising around the nation, the “education spring.” Students walked out of high-stakes standardized tests in Portland, Chicago, and Colorado, while students in Rhode Island staged a “zombie march” to illustrate the effects of these tests on their brains. As well, thousands of parents in Long Island opted their students out of tests, and parents and their young children in Chicago staged a “Play-in”—where they blew bubbles instead of filling them in—at the Department of Education building to show what the students would be learning if their class time wasn’t being inundated with up to fourteen standardized tests in a single year. Rallies in Texas helped defeat ten of the fifteen required tests for graduation.
“This movement against high-stakes standardized testing, while still young, is the largest it has ever been.”
Moreover, the ‘education spring’ has shown no signs of abating throughout the fall and winter of the 2013-2014 school year. A few of the highlights include the State of California placing a moratorium on Common Core exams for the year, some 86 percent of parents at Castle Bridge Elementary School in New York opting their children out of a standardized test, and the Portland Association of Teachers currently bargaining for a reduction in standardized testing as part of their initiative, “The Schools Portland Children Deserve.” Perhaps most inspiring this school year, The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, led by union president Mary Catherine-Ricker, is demanding that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments be discarded in the current contract negotiations, regardless of the state law requiring it. When I spoke to her about it, Mary Catherine told me that she takes inspiration from people like Fredrick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony who looked beyond what was legal and struggled for what was right.
This movement against high-stakes standardized testing, while still young, is the largest it has ever been. Moreover, there are major plans for renewed anti high-stakes testing initiatives being readied for the spring of 2014 by grassroots education organizations, teachers, parents, and students around the country. As the movement develops it would do well to coalesce around some clear demands, which should include calls for:
- An end to the high-stakes attached to standardized tests;
- Dramatic reductions of the number of standardized tests administered in the public schools;
- Implementation of authentic assessments, such as portfolios coupled with performance based assessments that allow students to demonstrate critical thinking skills and work over time and;
- Reallocation of the billions of dollars now spent on standardized testing towards class size reduction, tutoring and after school programs, authentic forms of assessment, and the interventions that can truly improve education rather than just endlessly ranking and sorting our youth;
- Allowing educators, parents, and students to direct decision making around assessment and public education policy.
On Thursday January 28th, at the Garfield Community Center at 5:30 p.m. we will hold a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the MAP test boycott, honor the participants of this movement whose willingness to risk their own personal wellbeing has helped reshape the education debate in the U.S., and chart a course for the next struggles to defend public education. Send us a letter to read at the event about how the MAP test boycott impacted you. Better yet, come on by. Then get back to work reclaiming public education in your area.
Jesse Hagopian teaches history and is the Black Student Union adviser at Garfield High School, the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test. Jesse is an associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine, a founding member of Social Equality Educators (SEE), and recipient of the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of Year” award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. Follow Jesse on his blog at www.iamaneducator.com or on Twitter:@jessedhagopian