MAPping the Way to a Better Tomorrow: Standardized Testing at Seattle’s Garfield High (by Guest Blogger Erik Brigham)

standardized testA number of teachers from Garfield High School in Seattle Washington are refusing to give students a standardized test, also known as the Measures of Academy Progress or MAP.  The boycott of the exam has been over-ridden by the superintendent of school, Jose Banda.  Banda has ordered school administrators to proceed with the test as students have been pulled from class and sent to the library to complete the exams.

What’s wrong with the test?  The Garfield High teachers take issue with a number of problems.  Garfield teacher Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser asks in an e-mail to superintendent Banda, “how do you respond to the problem that the margin of error exceeds expected annual improvement?”

Academic dean and testing coordinator Kris McBride stated that, “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously.  It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.”

In response to superintendent Jose Banda’s decision to go on with the testing Garfield High Schools PTSA president, Phil Sherburne, wrote an open letter in which he states that, “As parents, we want an air of normality at the school with the adults modeling to the students a rational deliberative process for resolving an important issue.

I have heard arguments in the past which object to standardized testing for a number of reasons, including a potential racial/economic bias.  What do you make of the objection to the MAP exam because “students don’t take it seriously”?  Is this a valid reason for not administering a test?

What about the notion that standardized test drain resources?

Lastly, does the superintendent have the authority to make the students take the exams, and if so, should he have in this case?




22 thoughts on “MAPping the Way to a Better Tomorrow: Standardized Testing at Seattle’s Garfield High (by Guest Blogger Erik Brigham)

  1. I have always been against standardized testing and in favor of a different way of testing knowledge. I am in full support of the Garfield High School in Seattle who is refusing to give students a standardized test. I believe that the entire school testing area needs to be re-vamped. A question arose in my mind while reading this, which was why does the superintendent have the power to override the teachers? What ever happened to majority rules?

    • I think the biggest issue with the majority rules argument here is that we collectively agree that some sort of metric needs to be in place for us to determine the progress of students’ education and if this test is not taken then there is not a backup to replace it. A depressing amount of things continue to happen simply because we don’t have the framework in place to do anything else.

      It is really shocking though that when these tests and rules are created the teachers’ incredibly valuable opinions and experience seem to be ignored. If we want to know what works and what doesn’t we have loads of people to ask and confer with that seem to get ignored whenever these issues come up.

  2. Nicole and Others: If you’re interested in taking the next step to support Garfield, go to and check out the Valentine’s Day of action plan. The Scrap the MAP movement is organizing a letter writing campaign on 02/14 and is hoping that all supporters join in. Letter writing information is there on the blog. Feel free to write a letter on your own or with some other members of the class!

  3. Thanks for your reply Nicole. You bring up a valid question about the function of a school superintendent. For more information about the role a school superintendent plays in a schools administration, check out:
    I haven’t read anywhere that the Garfield teachers are challenging superintendent Banda’s authority, only it’s application in this case. Apparently, Banda’s first response to the teachers protest over MAP testing was to call for a special emergency panel to discuss the issue. Then, without notice, he simply decided the testing would continue. I agree with you that in this case the teachers should have a part in deciding the content of the tests, I mean, who would know better then them?

  4. Erik,

    I am glad you wrote about this! I also agree that schools need to find alternative ways to measure aptitude to various subjects rather than standardized testing because I believe there are many students (including myself in the past) that have had such difficulty understanding in a testing environment as well as context.

    For example, in Hawaii we are required in all public high schools to take the Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) which tests a range of critical thinking or verbal reasoning skills. When I took the HSA in high school, I was baffled. They were making us do a science type lab with our science teachers and measuring the impact of a marble going into a tray of sand. I know, it sounds confusing, but thats how I felt. And like you indicate, students merely do not care about the tests and it doesn’t really benefit the students when they feel that this test is setting them up for failure. Honestly, I did not care for the test because this did not aid me for college or other ways of learning. From what I understand, high schools can earn more funding if the students pass with a certain average percentage across all grades. Therefore, this is a really inefficient and one-sided method to earning money for students. What happened to fundraisers and actually doing something school related to also better serve the community? I think the objection of not taking the test because students don’t take it seriously is valid. I didn’t care for the HSA because the test was asking questions that did not benefit my learning or reflect that. In the end, I think I scored about in the middle, not really trying. And yes, I should have, but why?

    I think the question our education system should ask is do these tests reflect us as a nation? What are the roles of teachers and why should we whittle down the teachings of educators into a generalized form of measuring a student’s aptitude, especially where the test does not know the student and the educator does.



    • Thanks for your post Janice. I suspect that you’re right that the superintendent’s motivation for requiring that the testing continue was financial. I also agree with you that standardized only gives us a glimpse of a students abilities. I was reading a response from one of the Garfield High School parents, and he believed that standardized testing was beneficial because it took “subjective” grading out of the hands of teachers. I wasn’t aware that this was an issue. In all my years at various schools, I can think of only maybe one time when I felt my grade was wrong, Am I missing something here? Has teacher “mis-grading” been mentioned as a reason for standardized testing?

      • I think that subjective grading is nearly impossible to avoid, if a teacher has any kind of relationship to the student then they are going into the grading process with certain expectations good or bad. I have heard loads of teachers and TAs say that they essentially know what grade a paper will receive within the first page. So, I can see the push for wanting an objective opinion but I think that the subjective nature of grading is simply part of the grading process. Filling in bubbles on a scantron is not a great way to ask a student to demonstrate knowledge as what it really reflects is their ability to memorize information; knowing a student, however, and expecting certain things from them and being able to interpret their performance can be hugely beneficial. The point of education and testing is to be sure that we prepare everyone for a life in the ‘real world’ and that life does not involve test taking at almost any point other than in the settings of other education.

        We do risk unfair grades being given by petty teachers with a grudge but I would like to think that we would try and weed those teachers out of the system and try and leave only the folks you are genuinely involved in the performance of their students and have the ability to interpret the data of a test to determine the level of understanding that a student demonstrated.

    • Hey Janice,
      Love your post. I think you bring up an interesting idea regarding states and the individual tests they give. I went to school in Washington and we were required to take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL. You said that on this test there was a science portion. There was a science portion on the WASL as well. I failed this part, but for my graduating class it wasn’t a requirement to pass. The WASL was such a big deal it took a week to complete. Do you remember what parts of the HSA you had to pass? If you failed, were you required to retake it?

  5. Erik,

    Very interesting stuff. Obviously this has caused quite the stir as it seems that the opposition to standardized testing has only grown over the past few years. I think the biggest issue with standardized tests is that they do not provide an accurate gauge of how ‘intelligent’ a student is. Obviously, some will test better than others, and some are smart in areas that the test simply cannot grasp. It is interesting to me that so many can be so opposed to this testing while individuals such as Jose Banda will force students to take a test. It seems that there is something that both sides of the party are struggling to understand.

    In response to your first question I propose some of my own, such as what about the students who actually do take the exam seriously? Do you think there would be students who, if given a choice, would actually choose to take the exam? I think that students not taking an exam seriously is something that absolutely needs to be considered. Clearly that could have a large impact on the statistics that are gathered from an exam. Is it a reason for not administering it? I would say no. Thats inescapable. I do think, however, that there are reasons aside from the seriousness taken by the students that would hold more significance in reasoning for moving away from standardized testing. And if we eventually do so, there still must be a way to make sure teachers are teaching and students are learning. Right?


    • Zack,

      I think what needs to be acknowledged concerning standardized testing is the many variables that come with the test and how these variables are reasons for why these standardized tests are not an accurate way to measure student success, as well as teacher success in our schools. Firstly, from a personal perspective, I remember taking tests in high school and having terrible test anxiety that at times did not allow me to do well at that time. Another very important variable that could be given more thought to is how standardized tests measure only a small part of what makes education meaningful. There is no space for creativity, critical thinking, leadership, or self-motivation; all skills that from personal experience have proved to be instrumental in my college career. I believe these tests are a poor measure of how well a student is achieving in school and how ‘intelligent’ a student is, as you stated. Finding a way to better measure a student’s progress in school that is widely accepted has yet to be found, however, acknowledging that standardized tests are not effective as these teachers in Seattle have done, I believe, is a step in the right direction.


      • Oskar,

        I agree with you. The tests do not provide an accurate gauge of intelligence, and teachers should not be punished if their students do not meet the ‘acceptable’ mark. Further, there is no way to measure creativity and leadership ability through a scantron. I would disagree with you that the tests do not allow for critical thinking, however I do understand that critical thinking can be applied in many different ways. If we are to move away from standardized testing (as it seems fairly clear that they are not effective and strongly disliked by many) then do we still need to find ways to make comparisons across school districts and states, and also hold teachers accountable as the tests were initially implemented to do? Is there a way to do these things in a more encompassing and favorable way, or is it simply not necessary? Maybe we don’t need to make progress comparisons of students across the nation, but we still need to find a way to ensure that students are progressing.


  6. I feel that whether or not a student takes a test seriously is not really a reason to not administer a test. I’ll be clear, I do not believe that standardized tests are an accurate measure of learning, but motivation has to come from the teachers. It all depends on how you treat the test. I had a similar experience as Janice wrote about when I was in school. I never took the state tests seriously in high school, especially because I was asked to take them multiple times per year under a different ID to boost the school’s overall pass rate. Moreover my teachers often didn’t even tell us when the tests were coming up, we just packed up and went to a computer lab during class some days.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that whether or not students take standardized tests seriously is one of the least significant reasons they could give in opposition to the MAP test. How about the fact that they don’t measure critical thinking skills, or foreign language skills. Or the fact that they still act as though age is the indicator for knowledge and grade level, rather than development or experience. Or that these tests assume all students have an equal chance to succeed, regardless of where they come from or what their home life is like. Those are the real problems I see, student interest in the test is secondary of all those and more.

    • Thanks Katie. I agree with you that a students interest level in testing may be secondary and all your reasons for objecting to standardized testing are valid. I especially like your point about how testing measures results in a standard way, yet our system doesn’t provide “standardized” educational opportunity for all students.

    • Katie: I think that the comments about student interest in the test is related to the fact that the MAP was going to be used to evaluate teachers and their teaching ability/potential pay raises, etc. If we are going to evaluate teachers by student performance on standardized tests, and students do not even take these tests seriously, this is a problem! The bigger problem is the idea of evaluating teachers via student test scores though, yes?

    • Katie,

      I can relate to some of the ideas that you have presented in your post. I agree that standardized tests are not an accurate measure of learning and motivation needs to come from the teachers. Researching more about how standardized tests are presented I came across a quote that reflects how I feel about them. It states: “Standardized tests are unfair and discriminatory, because students with diverse backgrounds and skill levels are expected to answer questions written for the white, abled majority”. Every student that is in school has come there with individual and unique experiences that have shaped them to whom they have become. Every student has a personal culture and perspective in life that I believe must be valued and acknowledged in our school system. I also feel that all of this is stripped away from the student when they are asked to take a standardized test that has been created to measure student achievement regardless of history and cultural differences.

      • Oscar,
        I totally agree with you that students come into the learning environment with different backgrounds. By taking a standardized test, (where white students do well in, because it is “tailored” for them), minority students don’t do as well. However, I know the difference in opinion in taking such tests, but since I don’t see this going away in the near future, how can we address and have minority students an “equal” way of passing such tests?

    • Katie,
      I agree with you that students’ lack of motivation isn’t a very strong reason against standardized tests such as the MAP test. All of the other reasons you have mentioned are extremely valid. However, I do think that the lack of motivation is an important factor to consider, and that maybe it should be looked at in a different category than the other reasons. While I agree with you that those reasons are extremely significant and that they should be given primary attention, they don’t change the fact that in reality a large chunk of students taking these tests may not understand the consequences that these tests have on their school, thus leading to a lack of motivation. I do believe that realistically this is an important factor to consider, because it’s simply how it is. I guess my overall point is that students’ motivation towards these tests should be regarded as a whole other side of the issue; what we do need to look at is how to evaluate the other factors you mentioned while also creating a sense of motivation within the students so that they will take the test seriously and want to succeed.

      Zelda Burk

    I wanted to share with you all the auto-response I received when I submitted a letter to superintendent Jose Banda via email;
    “If you are emailing regarding concerns around MAP testing, please know that we received your email. We have created a task force with teachers, principals, staff and families to review our assessments and make a recommendation by the end of May.”

    After receiving this message, I have tried to find a current article with information about this proposed task force. I haven’t found anything yet. Has anyone run across an article with this task force update information?

  8. Erik,
    Great post with tons of thoughtful questions but I have a few more to add… I am curious to know what the purpose of the MAP exam is. Is it to gather data and information regarding the knowledge a student has on any one topic? Is it to earn money from the government such as the standardized tests offered by No Child Left Behind? Is it a type of competition like Race to the Top? The real question is what is its purpose?
    The statement “students don’t take it seriously” in regards to the test brings up some concerning issues. I don’t think it is a valid reason to not administer a test. Don’t get me wrong, I think standardized tests are very limited in understanding a student’s ability however, I do believe they are one method in gaging a student’s understanding. Many students need to be pushed to succeed and have some sort of instant gratification. Most of the youth that reach high school have a hard enough time getting out of bed in the morning let alone doing homework or studying for a test. Just because it is a challenge, does that mean we have to make it easier for them? No, they have to go to school, do their homework, and be successful.

  9. What do you make of the objection to the MAP exam because “students don’t take it seriously”? Is this a valid reason for not administering a test?

    It’s hard to say. It does, as the quote states, provide specious results. How do we allot funds correctly if the students don’t take the evaluation seriously? How can we know where they stand if we aren’t given an accurate example of their capability?
    As for being a valid reason for not administering a test, I’d say it’s not a good one. There are plenty of students who don’t take the SAT seriously, and yet we still use that as a predictor of college success. No one can make a student care about a test simply through explanation. Only through an understanding of the consequences can the importance of accurate student evaluation be conferred.

  10. Erik,
    Thanks for sharing the information on MAP testing. I found this link that explained the test to me, as I couldn’t recall what it was and what it’s used for:
    Back when I was in high school (that makes me sound incredibly old, but seriously), standardized testing was not something strongly focused on, so the influx of “teaching to the test” and the emphasis on standardized testing for funding both surprises and saddens me. And the resulting influence on teachers is even more upsetting. People’s reactions to standardized testing suggests that the informed populous finds the tests to be a poor measure of intelligence; with that said, how can we convince students to take them seriously? And, then again, how can we do away with them? Some tests, such as the ACT and the SAT and the GRE, impact students’ futures in education in major ways – so in some sense we do have to teach kids how to take these tests. I don’t like standardized testing, but I feel like they’re going to be present in the education system for quite a while.
    -Jennifer Stark

    • We are operating under the assumption that a test that measures a student in New York needs to be equal to a test that measures a student in California and I think this is our biggest pitfall in this matter. Students are often not having the same experience in the same school from classroom to classroom even if the class is meant to be the same. It seems feasible to me that we should take the standards of the standardized test and ask teachers within states, cities, or even districts to create their own test that caters to what they taught and what knowledge they expect their students to have and have the test be approved by a national committee. That way we would still have the standardization of the level of knowledge while allowing the specifics to focus more on what is actually happening in the classroom.

      Though this would cost a lot more money to employ and would be a large overhaul of a system that is already in place and that time and money are things that we all know too well are incredibly scarce in public education.

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