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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

April 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New way to test? Garfield teachers explore New York model

Rachel Eells was one of several Garfield High School teachers who boycotted MAP testing last year. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times 2013.

Rachel Eells was one of the Garfield High School teachers who boycotted MAP testing last year. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times 2013.

In the wake of last year’s testing protest in Seattle, teachers at Garfield High, who led that revolt, received an invitation to visit teachers from 28 New York high schools where students don’t take most of their state’s high-stakes, standardized tests.

The schools, part of the New York  Performance Standards Consortium, instead give performance assessments —  in-depth assignments such as writing a paper comparing the protagonists’ deaths in three novels, or, in math, finding the parabolic path of a comet.

Consortium teachers make sure they grade such projects in the same way, sometimes sharing rubrics and scoring projects together. They’ve persuaded the state of New York to let them judge students’ skills that way, rather than with the usual New York Regents exams.

Two Garfield teachers visited the consortium in October, and two others went in February. They returned eager to try some of those ideas here, said Garfield teacher Rachel Eells.

The four teachers, plus a few others, met all this school year, looking closely at how they each assess their students’ progress, and helping each other improve their instructions to students, and their grading criteria.

The group also is weighing whether to propose that teacher-created assessments be used here as an alternative to standardized tests. They are among the Garfield teachers who have long said they aren’t against assessment, but don’t find standardized, multiple-choice tests useful because such tests don’t cover a lot of what they teach, such as analytical thinking.

That concern was one of the reasons why, last year, hundreds of Seattle teachers and students boycotted a set of district-required tests known as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The district backed the value of the MAP tests as one tool, and pointed out that many elementary schools liked using them, but in the end made the tests optional for high-school students.

Last week, the Garfield group shared what they’ve learned so far with the rest of the school’s faculty, showing their colleagues how they often start their discussions by looking at a piece of student work without the directions or grading criteria, then revisiting it once they’d looked at what students were asked to do.

“The MAP protest was really just the start of a deeper dialog about how to we assess students in a meaningful way and how we use assessments to meaningfully inform instruction,” Eells said.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Garfield High, MAP, Measures of Academic Progress

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