Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.

Seattle Teachers Boycott of Unfair & Unnecessary High Stakes Tests Spreads to Second High School

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In the most promising teacher and community resistance to corporate education reform since the Chicago Teachers Union strike last fall, instructors at Seattle's Garfield High School are standing up for their students by refusing to administer the so-called “Measure for Academic Progress” or MAP tests given in Seattle the last three years.

Dissident teachers point out that the test, for which Seattle paid $4 million in a no-bid deal, doesn't affect graduation, so students have never taken it seriously and it is not aligned with existing state standards for what schools are required to teach, or with the materials actually taught.

The test has nothing to do with teaching or learning. Its purpose under the model of corporate-inspired “run your school like a business” education reform, is to generate so-called “hard data” --- numbers to measure student progress, numbers that indicate teacher performance, and as is happening in hundreds of school districts across the country, numbers that justify which schools will next be closed and replaced by charter operations which generate handsome profits off public dollars.

Teachers point out that the MAP test, which is also given in Chicago, New York City and elsewhere, is doubly specious because district administrators “...reported that the margin of error for this test is greater than an individual student's expected score increase...” from year to year, according to a story printed in the suthoritative Substance News.

The corporate school reform agenda insists, however, that this sort of testing go on everywhere because letting go of as many experienced teachers as possible is a necessary step in privatization. Think about it. If you're a privatizing boss, experienced teachers don't just cost more, they know how to do their jobs without you. Some of them are organized to boot, with deep roots in school communities. The corporate model calls for making teachers into temporary workers, on the Wal-Mart and McDonalds models, with no ties to local communities and certainly no tradition of collective action.

This kind of testing labels schools and their students as “failures.” Seattle teachers are refusing to set their students, and themselves up for failure. As in Chicago, community leaders and students themselves have come out to support their teachers, who have been threatened with 10 day unpaid suspensions. The test boycott is spreading to other schools in Seattle, and beyond. On January 26, teachers at a second Seattle high school, Chief Sealth, joined their Garfield colleagues pledging to boycott the test, and teachers are reportedly considering the same move at other schools in Seattle, Portland and elsewhere. There is a call in and fax-in scheduled today in support of Seattle teachers, and a number of online petitions in support of their effort.

In his 2012 State of the Union speech, President Obama dropped a phrase about how teachers shouldn't be required to “teach to the test.” We can tell however, what side the president is on not by his words, but by his policies. If he meant those words, he'll not only commend the stand Seattle teachers have taken, but suspend his signature Race To The Top Program, which forces schools to give these tests, to tie teachers jobs and whether schools in minority communities remain open to them. We're not holding our breath on that one.

For more news on the ongoing resistance to corporate school reform, check out Substance News at For the latest on the situation in Seattle schools, the place to go is

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at

Direct download: 20130130_bd_seattle_test_boycott.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:13am EDT