After we scrapped the MAP

A year after teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School boycotted the MAP test, the movement against standardized testing has spread, writes teacher Jesse Hagopian.

Seattle teachers gathered at a protest against high-stakes standardized testingSeattle teachers gathered at a protest against high-stakes standardized testing

ONE YEAR ago, my colleagues and I at Seattle's Garfield High School set off on a bold journey: we called a press conference 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." The boycott quickly spread to several other schools in Seattle, including 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? Would we 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 10 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, that 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 against the MAP test, the debate 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 and 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--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.

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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-15 mandated high-stakes tests required for graduation; the victorious Chicago Teachers 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," which 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 in Maryland.

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 multibillion-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 school system's headquarters to show what students would be learning if their class time wasn't being inundated with up to 14 standardized tests in a single year.

The "education spring" has shown no signs of abating through the fall and winter of the 2013-14 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 Cathryn 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, Ricker 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 in 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;

-- 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; and

--Allowing educators, parents and students to direct decision-making around assessment and public education policy.

On Thursday, January 30, 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.

First published at Common Dreams.