How Garfield High Defeated the MAP Test

How Garfield High School tipped the scales against a controversial standardized test
Garfield High Seattle magazine MAP test
Teachers Jesse Hagopian and Mallory Clarke successfully boycotted the MAP test at Garfield High School

To address the frustration and concerns of all involved, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda created a task force of teachers, principals, parents and community leaders to explore the test and how it’s used. Meanwhile, as the spring round of testing approached in April—the MAP is administered three times a year—teachers at Ingraham High School and Thornton Creek Elementary joined the boycott, bringing the number of schools opting out of the test to seven, with teachers at both Roosevelt and Franklin high schools stating that they, too, would boycott the test if it was administered during the upcoming school year.

But what exactly was it about Garfield High that made it the flashpoint for the MAP boycott?

“Garfield High has a long history of activism,” says Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher and graduate of Garfield, who was instrumental in leading the boycott against the MAP testing. “Martin Luther King Jr., in his only visit to Seattle, chose to speak here. We also have a tradition of nurturing the whole child. We have one of the best jazz programs in the country. We have great drama and art departments. Garfield has always realized that education is more than a single data point.”

The school does indeed embrace activism. In fact, in November 2011, about 400 Garfield students walked out of class to protest state cuts in education and support Hagopian, who had been arrested for staging a protest at the state Capitol building in Olympia.

In addition to its activist history, Garfield’s diverse socio-economic mix of students is also a factor in its strong objection to MAP testing. “Living inside a school with the kind of income disparity that Garfield has in its student body is an education in itself,” says Mallory Clarke, a reading teacher at Garfield, who was part of the boycott. “None of us has any misconceptions about the ‘system’ being fair and therefore sacred. Several of us had done things to resist the test in the past: simply and quietly not walking students to the testing lab, writing and meeting with the district or school board, or interviewing students and posting the interviews.”

That income disparity comes into play for students who do not have the Internet or a computer in their homes. Not only are these students at a disadvantage when taking the test, which is administered via computer, but they also lose out on computer lab and library time for several weeks each year while the MAP ties up those facilities.

In May, the administration decided that, based on the recommendations of the task force, Seattle high schools would not have to administer the MAP. However, the test will still be given to elementary and middle school students. Superintendent Banda stated that a new, ongoing working group would be created to monitor assessments and work on recommendations for the 2014–15 school year and beyond. “There was opportunity here, and we hope to continue to have these conversations,” Banda says. “We’re listening to them and we’re doing our best to support them in carrying out the work that needs to happen.”

A sense of victory swept through Garfield. “When we got word that the superintendent had relented and acknowledged that this test was wrong for our students, there was a moment of pure elation,” Hagopian says. “There were high fives and fist pumps in the hallway between teachers and students.”

However, there are still questions. “It’s recognition of our professional power, but I fear it was not an acknowledgement of the rightness of our arguments,” Clarke says. “They have yet to answer any of our criticisms of the test. They told us it was invalid, but they are still willing to use the MAP at the elementary and middle school level. The Department of Education says the MAP has no value. Still, they are willing to spend money on it when we are hurting so badly for funds.”

What ultimately is to be gained by tests like the MAP is an important question. Much of the controversy has centered on how the results are being used to assess schools, students and teachers.

What makes the MAP different from most other standardized tests used by Seattle Public Schools is that, unlike an end-of-year state assessment, it doesn’t evaluate based on the curriculum taught at a specific grade level. “It’s assessing what students actually know in basic reading and math skills,” explains Clover Codd, executive director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for Seattle Public Schools. “It allows us to inform intervention and accelerated learning for certain students.” However, teachers object to being evaluated on material they have not been asked to teach, and students and parents would rather see class time and school resources focused elsewhere.