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Teachers’ test boycott draws growing support

Seattle teachers question the use of a computer adaptive test for formative assessment

Eleven teachers from ORCA K-8 and dozens of ORCA parents joined the boycott last week, and some teachers at Salmon Bay K-8 may soon do the same. Teachers at a number of other schools have sent letters of support, as have Garfield parents and students, the Seattle Student Senate, and a number of other local and national parent and educator groups.

District officials say the protesting teachers have some misconceptions about the MAP, a set of computer-adaptive exams the district has been using for the past five years to measure math and reading skills.

They say the MAP is a reliable, valuable test that helps teachers track student progress throughout the school year.

There’s a reason why millions of students across the nation are taking MAP tests, said Eric Anderson, the district’s director of research, assessment and evaluation.

But officials also acknowledge that some of the teachers’ concerns have merit and will be discussed as part of a long-planned review of all district tests this spring.

Outcry for a better test

The protesting teachers have many reasons for why they dislike the MAP — everything from the challenge of getting students to take it seriously to the fact that, for ninth-graders, the test’s margin of error is as big as the number of points a typical student is expected to gain. But all agree they want something better for their students and also for themselves. Because they distrust the MAP results, they don’t like the fact that the test can affect the job reviews of many teachers.

Eells, who has earned a prestigious National Board Certification, said the biggest issue is the lack of useful information the tests yield. She gets better data, she said, from her own tests and by sitting down with students one-on-one.

With the MAP, she said, she gets a long list of scores, but limited information about where to go from there.

To her, it seems that the MAP mostly covers concrete, measurable skills, which she cares about less than teaching students how to think, write and express themselves well.

“I am willing to have my craft looked at and evaluated,” she said. “But this isn’t the way to do it.”

She feels so strongly that she’s willing to get fired — an unlikely scenario, but one she’s ready to face.

Focus on skill levels

The MAP exams are different from state tests that teachers also are required to give.

Like state tests, the MAP tests are multiple-choice, but they are adaptive, which means no two students answer all the same questions. When students get one question right, they get a harder one, while a wrong answer leads to an easier question. The idea is to find where students’ skills lie rather than just determine whether a fourth-grader can pass a fourth-grade test.

Seattle schools have the choice of giving the MAP reading and math tests twice or three times a year. Nearly two-thirds of elementary schools choose three, but most middle and high schools do not.

Each MAP test takes about an hour for most students to complete, but with so many students taking it, the test can tie up some school libraries or computer labs for weeks.

(Next page: Response from the district and the test’s maker)

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  1. computerhead

    January 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Over many years I have found that the MAP is
    the most reliable measure. Especially compared
    to state tests. I mean reliable in the sense
    that the MAP results most closely match what
    I see students doing in the classroom.

    The problem is not testing per se. The problem is
    over-testing, a mania for testing. This is
    polluting the value of all tests, including
    the Measures of Academic Progress.