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Teachers at Seattle school boycott standardized test

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Teachers at a Seattle high school, in a rare boycott by educators against a standardized test, are refusing to give students a decades-old reading and math test after the city's school district decided to factor the exam into the instructors' evaluations.

The 19 teachers at Garfield High School have complained they are unable to adequately prepare students for the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, which was created over 25 years ago but was introduced to Seattle Public Schools in 2009.

The revolt by the Garfield teachers, who comprise all the instructors at the school required to give the MAP test, comes at a time of fierce political battles over teacher evaluations that has played out in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The MAP test that has become a point of contention at Garfield is given at schools around the country but is not required by Washington state.

Unlike the tests required by the state, which are the High School Proficiency Exam and the End-of-Course exams, it has no bearing on students' grades or their ability to graduate.

Kris McBride, the school's testing administrator and a supporter of the 19 teachers, said the instructors do not object to all standardized testing.

But unlike the state-required math, science and reading tests, teachers are given no sample questions to help prepare students and they are not told what will be included on the test, which students complain often does not relate to their curriculum, McBride said.

The students are "sitting there feeling really stupid, saying, ‘I don't know how to do this,'" McBride said.

Students are also aware the test has no bearing on their grades or ability to graduate, and some of them refuse to take it seriously, which can bring down their scores, McBride said.

At the same time, beginning this year it will be used in teacher evaluations, with possible consequences for instructors in classrooms that perform badly, she said.

McBride also said students taking the MAP exam tie up the school's computer lab and it cuts down on time for instruction.

Teacher evaluations have been a contentious issue in Washington state, as they have been in other parts of the country, and last year state lawmakers passed a law that for the first time makes firing teachers and principals a potential outcome of a poor evaluation.

"To use this (MAP) as a tool to evaluate our teaching makes no sense," said Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High. "They're setting us up for failure. And Garfield High School is not a failure. We're the home of (former students) Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Quincy Jones."

Representatives for Seattle Public Schools could not be reached for comment. But district administrators in a statement to the Seattle Times said the MAP test allows the district to analyze student achievement and measure student improvement.

While it is relatively common for parents and students to organize boycotts of standardized tests, such action is unusual among teachers, said Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, a group opposed to standardized testing.

"This is a rare phenomenon," Neill said. He added that the only other similar incident he can recall occurred at least 10 years ago in Chicago.

McBride said she hopes Seattle's newly installed schools superintendent, José Banda, will meet with the teachers to hear their concerns. She does not expect the teachers will be disciplined, she said.

"We don't want a rift with the district," McBride said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Carol Bishopric and Eric Walsh)

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