Updated Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 12:16 AM
Under orders from Seattle Superintendent José Banda, the principal and assistant principals at Garfield High have started giving the district-required tests that Garfield teachers have been boycotting for nearly a month.
The move came after talks between Banda and the teachers ended in deadlock Monday, with teachers vowing to continue their protest of exams known as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), and Banda telling Garfield’s principal to administer the tests without teachers’ help.
Before Monday’s meeting, both sides had expressed hope that a compromise could be reached. But the meetings, although cordial, ended with an agreement to disagree.
Banda wanted teachers to suspend their boycott while a new task force reviews the district’s entire testing program. That task force, which is scheduled to start meeting Thursday, will include teachers as well as principals, district administrators and community members.
“I was hoping we could come up with some kind of compromise or some solution for us to move forward in a collaborative spirit,” Banda said.
School Board member Sherry Carr said she supported Banda’s decision, saying that teachers need to follow district policy while the task force does its work.
But the teachers said they can’t give a test that they feel has little, if any, value for teachers or students, especially when Banda has not addressed their concerns in detail.
Banda’s decision showed “a callous disregard for the will of the educational community that makes up Garfield,” said Jesse Hagopian, a Garfield history teacher.
Many Garfield parents and students support the boycott, and the school’s PTSA organized a campaign to notify parents of their right to exempt their students from the tests.
On Tuesday, only 97 of the roughly 400 ninth-graders who were supposed to take the MAP reading test did so, said Garfield Principal Ted Howard. The other 300, he said, had their parents’ permission to be excused.
Phil Sherburne, president of Garfield’s PTSA, said he was sorry to see the debate turn into a power struggle, saying Banda’s decision to force the exam on Garfield “just escalated the conflict.”
About 80 teachers and staff at three other Seattle schools also are boycotting the exams, but Banda said Tuesday he will not take action at those schools until he has a chance to talk with them.
Teachers at many other Seattle schools also have sent letters supporting the protesting teachers, as have groups and individuals from across the nation, including well-known authors Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch.
Banda and other district officials say the protesting teachers have some misconceptions about the MAP, a set of computerized exams the district has been using for the past five years to measure math and reading skills.
In talking with the teachers, he said, he realized that some teachers might not have received enough training to understand how best to interpret and use the test results.
Millions of students across the nation take the MAP, and about 200 school districts in Washington state use the exams. In Seattle, students from the first through ninth grades take the tests two to three times a year, and the district uses the results to monitor student progress and to help evaluate teachers. Kindergartners usually take the exams only once a year.
Banda said many teachers and parents have told him the MAP is a useful tool.
“Regardless of whether we think testing is good or bad, it’s really about the children and making sure we are able to identify any potential gaps in their learning,” he said.
But Garfield teachers told Banda they have no intention of suspending their boycott, which they announced in early January with a long list of concerns.
Teachers say the tests’ margin of error is greater than the number of points that the average ninth-grader is expected to gain, that the tests cover material they are not expected to teach, that students who are struggling must take the tests more often even though they shouldn’t miss class time, and that giving the MAP tests ties up Garfield’s computer labs for weeks.
Teachers who refuse to give the test will face some discipline, but Banda told them Monday that they will not be suspended for two weeks without pay, a punishment the district has given in the past to teachers who refused to give state-required exams.
“I don’t know that taking them out of the classroom for 10 days is necessarily going to be beneficial to them or their students,” Banda said.
No administrators have joined the boycott. If they did, Banda said, their jobs could be at stake.
Howard, Garfield’s principal, wouldn’t comment on the boycott, except to say that he usually works with his teachers as a team, and it’s hard for him to be in a situation where that’s not the case.
Howard said he uses the MAP to look at students’ progress in elementary and middle school, but he added that teachers raise some good questions about the exam.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @LShawST
Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda