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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 9:24 PM

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Panel wants MAP exam to be optional for Seattle high schools

A committee formed to evaluate the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) tests given in Seattle Public Schools plans to recommend the exams be optional in high schools.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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A task force assigned to study whether Seattle Public Schools should continue using the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exams plans to recommend the test not be mandatory for high schools next school year.

It will remain mandatory for grades K-8.

Only one member of the committee voted against the recommendations, which also would narrow down ways the test should and shouldn’t be used in the future.

The school district should continue funding the test for high schools that choose to use it, according to the group, but only while keeping several things in mind.

Among them: The MAP test alone should not be used to determine whether a student can enter a certain program; assessment results should be more clearly communicated to families; and teachers should be better trained to administer and understand assessment.

What the group didn’t address is how each school will determine optional use of the test, leaving that decision to each school’s leadership.

The task force will formalize the recommendations they approved Thursday in a report they plan to deliver to Superintendent José Banda on Monday and then make the full report public later that week.

Though there were disagreements among task-force members throughout the drafting of the recommendations, most concluded Thursday’s meeting by saying they believed a lot of progress had been made in rethinking how assessment tools should be used by Seattle Public Schools.

“I appreciated the process and I’m surprised I appreciated the process,” said Kris McBride, academic dean at Garfield High School. “It could have been a lot uglier.”

The 29-member committee, made up of teachers, principals, administrators and community members, has met eight times since early February in the wake of a teacher boycott of the MAP exams that started at Garfield in January.

Teachers at six other schools have joined the boycott, saying that the MAP exams aren’t worth the time and money it takes to give them. Hundreds of other teachers have signed letters of support, and hundreds of parents chose to opt their children out of taking the winter MAP exams.

The task force included a couple of the teachers who have been part of a test boycott, as well as those who find the MAP exam a useful tool. After he gets the task force’s recommendations, Banda is expected to decide soon whether to renew the district’s contract with the MAP’s developer, the Northwest Evaluation Association.

The contract, costs the district about $500,000 a year.

Even if Banda renews the MAP contract, it seems likely that the district won’t continue to use the tests for long. District officials say a number of new tests they may want to use instead will soon be available, especially those tied to a set of national reading and math standards known as the Common Core.

Nearly all states, including Washington, have signed up to use those standards to guide what students are taught. Seattle has been using MAP reading and math tests for the past five years, starting in a few schools then expanding districtwide. Students from kindergarten through ninth-grade take MAP reading and math exams two to three times a year. Some older students who are below grade level must take it, too.

The MAP tests are multiple-choice exams which students take online. They are also adaptive, which means no two students answer all the same questions.

When students get one question right, they are presented with a harder one, while a wrong answer leads to an easier question. The idea is to find where students’ skills lie rather than simply determine whether a fourth-grader can pass a fourth-grade test.

The protesting teachers oppose the MAP for many reasons — from the challenge of getting students to take the tests seriously, to the fact that the tests are general exams that don’t necessarily cover what teachers have taught in any particular year or semester. The teachers also say the test seems to focus on low-level skills. They stress that they’re not against testing, but say the MAP is not worth the time or money spent on it.

District officials say the protesting teachers have some misconceptions about the MAP, which they say is a reliable, valuable test that helps teachers track student progress.

With the proper training, they say, teachers can use the MAP to help pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses. The district also uses the MAP to help determine which students need extra help, which math classes students should take, and which students should apply for the gifted program.

MAP also is one of the two exams that, under Seattle’s teachers contract, are used to calculate a student-growth rating for many teachers — mostly those who teach reading and math.

Under the district’s new teacher-evaluation system, those ratings aren’t an official part of a teacher’s evaluation, but if growth is low, that triggers a closer look at his or her performance.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com.

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