Named One of the Best Educational Blogs 2010 by the Washington Post

About CSTP

Stories from School Blogs by State

Stay Informed

Tom | January 27, 2013

The MAP Controversy


Stock-illustration-6396209-compass-rose-ancientBy Tom

When we were in college, learning how to be teachers, we were told that there were two types of assessments: summative and formative. Summative assessments come at the end of the unit or year. Their purpose is to “summarize” the learning that did or didn’t happen. You may remember these as “final tests.”

Formative assessments, on the other hand, come during the course of the unit or school year. Their purpose is to inform students, teachers and parents on the progress made by each student in regards to the learning. Ideally, these tests are used by teachers to adjust the pace or content of instruction; and by students and their parents to adjust the amount or intensity of effort.

The Seattle School District has recently found itself embroiled in a controversy over its assessment system. The district uses the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) as a formative assessment of math and reading comprehension skills. Their students take the computer-based tests twice a year and teachers, students and parents are supposed to use the results as I’ve described above.

This year, however, the teachers at Garfield High voted unanimously to boycott the MAP. Other teachers around the district followed suit, or at least sent words of support. Their basic beef with the test is that it isn’t aligned with their curriculum, rendering it completely useless as a formative assessment, and therefore a waste of precious instructional time.

I don’t teach in Seattle, and I don’t administer the MAP (my district uses something similar) so I don’t know exactly how things turned out this way, but I strongly suspect it has something to do with the fact that secondary English teachers don’t spend much time on direct instruction of reading comprehension, compared to their colleagues at the elementary level. The reading MAP, therefore, wouldn’t give them much feedback on the actual teaching and learning in their classrooms. Math teachers would find themselves equally frustrated, since their classes focus on specific math strands.

At this point things have reached a standoff: the teachers are refusing to administer the tests and the administration has insisted they do so, reluctantly threatening a ten-day, unpaid suspension for non-compliance.

I have to think that the teachers involved in the conflict must be asking themselves an important question: “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” And if it were me, my answer would be “no.”

First of all, the “hill” – if you follow my metaphor, has already been won. It’s hard to imagine things returning to the way they were after this episode. The teachers have made their point, and the administration has clearly listened. I would be very surprised if the MAP – at least at the secondary level – isn’t eliminated or at least drastically modified before next school year. And as for this year, I can’t imagine anyone looking at the Garfield High data with more than mild curiosity; if the students weren’t already disaffected about taking their MAP’s, they certainly are by now.

Furthermore, decisions regarding assessment data simply have to be made at the district level. A school district, after all, is not simply a loose confederation of completely autonomous teachers. The whole point of having a district administration is to coordinate and align the various programs and classrooms so that students, as they move through the system, get a comprehensive education. Like it or not, assessment is part of that experience. Every worker who’s ever had a job has found something dysfunctional about their workplace. That’s life; some of us laugh about it, all of us complain about it, and the best of us work to improve it.

And finally, there’s the pragmatic angle. Superintendent Banda has no choice but to inflict repercussions as a way out of the standoff. “Dying” on this hill will mean two week suspensions without pay; roughly $3,000, give or take. That’s not nothing. It will also mean a lot of lost instruction for the affected students; which ironically, is the biggest complaint made by the Garfield teachers about the very test they’re boycotting.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in having principles and I believe in taking a stand for those principles. But there comes a time when your principles succumb to reality. And that’s the time to count your winnings, cut your losses and move on.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Some of my friends are those teachers boycotting the MAP.

I'm glad you wrote the post on this issue, because it was a little close to home for me.

I support them and their decision because I know that in my district, you have to make a lot of noise to get the central office to hear you. I admire that Garfield was unanimous, that they are united in this decision.

My staff had a conversation about what we were going to do, but before we voted we agreed that we would not boycott unless we were unanimous. We weren't. We had too many questions about how MAP scores were used, what would happen to students on testing day if the teacher boycotted, and whether it would limit a child's opportunities for advanced classes if he didn't have a MAP score.

Would I be happy if my daughters had a sub for ten days? No. Would I be supportive of their teachers? Yes.

It's a complicated issue.

The MAP test is useless to me as a secondary teacher, and it's useless to me as a parent. My daughters get a certain score, then months later that score changes as the testing company finds the mean, or whatever they do. I've walked behind my students and seen the most ridiculous questions - it's not at all an assessment that measures what I teach. It's not even an assessment that measures what is on our state or common core standards.

I think the Garfield teachers have forced the district to reconsider whether or not this assessment is worth the time, resources, and money. I think the district will realize it's not, and for that I'm really grateful they've chosen to hold the hill at all costs.

Points well taken. I don't disagree with anything the teachers say against the MAP; it's clearly not best practice. I just don't see this issue as rising to the level of something worth a boycott.

Remember, two weeks unpaid suspension means two weeks with a sub.

I'm going to agree with Mark in that I don't think the administration has "clearly listened" on this issue. Threatening a two week unpaid suspension does not sound like listening to me. That so many teachers from different schools all around Seattle are willing to take this stand indicates to me the seriousness of this issue. Not only is the MAP test not well aligned to standards or curriculum, which makes it a very poor use of instructional time, but it also costs the district money to proctor and administer it. Computer labs are unavailable for classroom activities during all this testing time. The MAP test is also used for teacher evaluation in a very questionable manner. All these resources currently used for the MAP could be better spent for activities that would actually improve teaching and learning, and these teachers are willing to stand up and say so.

So yes, these teachers have chosen this "hill" to stand on. If I taught in Seattle, I would go stand up there on that hill with them.

Would I take a $3000 pay cut for this? No. I'm doing my taxes right now and that number is too close to what I ended up taking home last year.

However, whether the district is getting the teachers' point as you hope... I don't know. What I do know is this: when student growth is part of our evaluation under the new law, part of how we are evaluated is based on the quality of the assessments we choose for gathering that data about our students and how convincingly that data illustrates meaningful growth toward a goal or standard. Even including MAP testing in that conversation seems like it might be a waste of time. I use an assessment similar to MAP that kicks out a lexile score for kids--I've used that to track data for years--but it doesn't show growth toward a standard, and it doesn't inform my choices about student learning other than helping me identify students who struggle, which, of course, is something I could already see from my more authentic classroom based assessments.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment