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Standing Up To Rheeism


Much credit to Seattle teachers at Garfield and Ballard High Schools for refusing to give a flawed standardized test to their students.

Laura Clawson:

The MAP appears to be a perfect storm of the problems with standardized testing: put in place through a corrupt, profit-driven process; with an unacceptably high margin of error; not measuring the things students are actually supposed to be learning; and taking needed time away from instructional time in order for students to take a test they don’t take seriously. But while its problems may be especially large, they’re not unique. What these teachers are doing in saying no to the MAP is brave, it’s in their students’ best interests, and it’s yet another demonstration of how badly teachers’ voices are needed in the broader education policy debate.

Teacher refusal to give the tests is a risky but brave and inspiring way to stand up to the forces that seek to turn education into a profit-generating system that sucks the soul out of both students and teachers.

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  • DF

    I’m a tech coordinator in a middle school/district that also administers this same MAP test, though not (yet) for evaluation purposes. If the student makes a good faith effort at the test, it can be extremely valuable for individual diagnostic purposes, because it breaks down student performance on the test into very fine-grained categories. You can get a good picture of exactly what a student is struggling with and where you need to focus your teaching efforts.

    That being said, using it for evaluative purposes is misguided and unfair to educators. I proctor the test, and I see a large number of students who don’t take the test seriously at all. They just click through to get it over with. Our student population has taken the test in the grips of a horrible flu outbreak. Those kids who were actually in school at the time were sick, getting sick, or struggling to get over being sick. When you have to spray down the computers with Lysol after every class comes through, you really have to question the validity of the results obtained. Technical difficulties that require restarting the computer and/or test can also have a suppressive effect on students’ scores.

    Further, the test results almost certainly can be affected by the classroom environment. I’ve had classes come in that got way out of hand (this tends to go hand in hand with technical difficulties; it’s difficult to police behavior when you’re trying to figure out why a laptop refuses to connect to the wireless network). A classroom full of antsy, misbehaving children is going to affect the scores of even the quiet, bookish kid in the corner making a good faith effort at the test. I am not the classroom teacher, but my performance in managing the behavior of the testing classroom is a part of the test scores that could be used against a classroom teacher in their evaluation. Yet that caveat will never be mentioned in the evaluation.

    tl;dr MAP: sometimes good for diagnosis, never good for evaluation due to a multitude of variables beyond classroom teacher competency in the resulting scores

    • John Protevi

      Thanks, that’s a very useful comment. It probably holds for lots of other tests as well, wouldn’t you say?

      • BigHank53

        I do recall that back in my day it was quite rare for a #2 pencil to have wifi problems. In any case, the teacher had a boxful of spares on the desk, which had probably set the school district back $2.

        • John Protevi

          LOL. Of course I meant the diagnostic vs evaluative bit, but I did leave myself open for this comment!

        • sparks

          One day, a kid is going to see a pencil and say, “What’s that? It looks like a really cheap stylus.”

        • malraux

          Yeah, but I’d rather have computer problems out the wazoo than deal with the special hell of “completely fill the circle or you won’t get credit for a right answer; do not go outside the circle one little bit or you will get a wrong answer.” Are you testing my knowledge, or ability to do a specific fine motor skill over and over? Scantron testing is hellish.

          • sharculese

            “Did you realize you made a mistake? Sorry, the erasers on these cheap pencils are about to turn your answer sheet into a rorschach test.”

            • RedSquareBear

              Scantron brings the fun and excitement of Florida in 2000 to schools and universities everywhere!

              Just with fewer Brooks Brothers rioters (except maybe in the business classes).

    • A lot of assessments seem to suffer from this same problem – they’re decent diagnostic tests but supremely bad when evaluative force is applied.

      • DF

        Exactly right, because they are not measuring what reform advocates and testing enthusiasts think they’re measuring. These tests measure how the child performed on the test. I am sympathetic to the idea that this performance has some correlation with the child’s knowledge and skills, but I’m not convinced it’s anywhere near as tight a correlation as testing advocates claim.

        What is not being measured is teacher effectiveness. Or rather, these tests are not measuring just teacher effectiveness in isolation. That’s one variable in a complex relationship between teachers, school facilities, home life, the student’s intrinsic motivation, etc. All of those variables combine to produce that test score, yet testing advocates want to ignore the rest of them and praise or punish the teacher, as if that is the only consideration. Seems to me that willful blindness is required to think this is a good idea.

        • Cody

          Of course willful blindness is required. That’s their whole plan.

          You blame the teachers for poor test results because America Is The Greatest Country Ever. This means it is by definition impossible that these kids are in underfunded schools, have no parental support, or are just plain living in poverty.

          So why even bother considering outside factors? Must be the dirty Union teacher!

  • Lynnia

    My sister teaches fifth grade to a low of poor kids, many of them immigrants. They are always right on the borderline of having enough kids pass the high stakes tests to avoid being labeled a failing school — a few kids one way or the other makes all the difference.

    Last year, one of her best-performing kids — a sure thing pass — was also diabetic. His mother couldn’t or wouldn’t manage his diet properly. On Test Day, the kid made it 20 minutes before having to go to the nurse with low blood sugar. Of course, once a kid starts a test their score must be counted, so this sure pass turned into a sure fail with only a few questions even attempted. She has had other kids who come from pretty messed-up home situations fall asleep mid-test because they don’t get enough sleep at home at night.

    All of which is say yep, lots of variables that have nothing to do with teacher competency.

    But hey, I think we can all conclude from this story that the real problem is that my sister has nice health benefits and a good retirement plan.

    • wengler

      If you aren’t labelled a ‘failing school’ by now, you are actually doing pretty good. No Child Left Behind is aimed at making every public school in the country labelled ‘failing’ by 2014.

      It was a very cleverly designed law from a PR perspective.

  • James E Powell

    I proctor the test, and I see a large number of students who don’t take the test seriously at all. They just click through to get it over with.

    I see this all the time. In California, the annual CSTs mean nothing to the student; the score has no impact on the grade or on promotion. I often wish people who believe these tests should be used to evaluate teachers could watch the students take it. You could do a fair estimate of the scores just by watching the body language.

    • L2P

      Someone supporting school reform would say that just shows evidence of a bad teacher. A good teacher would have inspired the students so much that they would be willing, no, eager! Eager, I say! to take a meaningless, boring, hours-long standardized test.

      To me, that’s the real flaw with the reform movement. Literally everything is evidence of a need for reform.

      • Steve LaBonne

        Hammer, nail, looks like, etc. And their hammer is designed for union-busting.

        • Cody

          This appears to just be random words thrown out.

          Yet the meaning was crystal clear to me.

          Are you some kind of poet? Or maybe I’m just that insightful…

          • Pestilence

            or you had good teachers on union benefits :)

    • jeer9

      Our high school in CA has had the same difficulties and began offering lots of carrots to the students (off-campus passes, monetary rewards, free drinks and desserts at lunch) to those who significantly improved their scores from one year to the next. And scores have in fact gone up. Whether these tests are an accurate evaluation of a student’s learning remains a separate question, but these rewards do seem to enhance motivation. And the administrators are very pleased – a fact that should not go unappreciated.

    • Murc

      In California, the annual CSTs mean nothing to the student; the score has no impact on the grade or on promotion.

      People crafting policy for children’s education (hell, people in general) often seem to either never have been, or not remember being, children themselves.

      Of course the kids don’t take a standardized test they’re forced to take, but that they’re not being graded on, seriously! What do they think children are, cattle? That you point them in one direction and they’ll just go?

      I’m far from old, but I’m no longer young. I remember being young, though. I have friends, acquaintances, people I went to school with, etc. who have kids/nephews/nieces who are just starting to enter their teens.

      And they keep telling about all these problems they’re having, and what they’re doing to try and solve them, and I just stare at them slack-jawed. Do they not remember being kids?

      This is a more or less accurate conversation I had last week with an old, old friend:

      “So I’ve resorted to bribery in exchange for results in school.”

      “Uh, you remember when your mom tried that with you, right? Back in the day?”

      “Kind of. I remember it working.”

      “No, you remember that you got an extra ten bucks once a month for gaming the system she’d set up juuuuuust enough to give the illusion of progress while doing the minimum amount of work. You even bragged about not really learning anything. Do you think your kid is dumber than you are?”

      “Actually, I’m very scared he’s much smarter.”

      “So what makes you think they won’t do the same thing you did?”

      I really look forward to the moment he starts trying to control his children’s appearance. The combination of useless flailing and hypocrisy is going to be pretty epic.

      • Pestilence

        My observations lead me to the serious conclusion that becoming a parent obliterates all memories of being a child, for 90%+ of the population.

  • Linnaeus

    I’ll be driving right in front of Ballard High later today. I’ll give a honk for the teachers. Of course, that might annoy the driver in front of me…

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