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Originally published Monday, May 13, 2013 at 9:30 PM

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Seattle high schools can omit MAP exams

In a victory for Seattle teachers protesting the exams known as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), high schools won’t have to give the exams starting next fall.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Teachers protesting the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests in Seattle won a big victory Monday, as Superintendent José Banda announced that high schools don’t have to give the tests after this spring.

The decision will be up to each high school’s leadership team, Banda said in a letter to staff.

All other schools in the district must continue to give MAP reading and math exams at least twice a year, despite the call from hundreds of teachers and parents to scrap the test altogether.

But high schools, where the MAP boycott has been strongest, can be free of the exams if they choose, although they will be required to come up with some other way to track the progress of students who are behind.

At Garfield, where the boycott began in January, teachers rejoiced Monday after school let out, high-fiving each other in the halls, said Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian, one of the leaders of a protest that has drawn national attention.

“Finally, educators’ voices have been acknowledged,” Hagopian said.

The protesting teachers — including almost the entire Garfield staff — risked suspension or other discipline, he said, but they prevailed.

“This is a great moment in the movement for quality assessment,” he said.

But Hagopian also predicted the rebellion against the MAP will continue among those who think the test has little value at any grade level. “This struggle,” he said, “is far from over.”

Banda’s decision reflects the recommendations of a district-appointed task force of teachers, principals, parents, district administrators and representatives from community groups. The 29-member committee focused solely on whether the district should continue to use the MAP in the upcoming school year and, if so, how.

Even before the task force finished its work, however, Banda decided to scale back use of the MAP in high schools, saying not all ninth-graders would have to take the reading test, only those scoring below grade level on the state reading exam.

For younger students, Banda and the task force continue to endorse the MAP tests as a useful way to track progress and figure out who needs extra help.

Banda said he’s heard from a large number of elementary-school teachers who like the exams.

Banda also noted that a survey done by the district’s teachers union showed a majority of the 2,126 respondents find the MAP effective or somewhat effective in identifying students who need extra help, and in measuring academic growth.

But the survey also found fewer than 30 percent of respondents thought the MAP worth the time and effort.

The protesting teachers, who number in the hundreds at six different schools, say the MAP tests have little value for them or their students, monopolize school libraries and computer labs for weeks, and aren’t closely tied to what they’re supposed to be teaching.

The majority stress that they’re not against testing per se, just the MAP.

Parents and students joined in, and 600 students did not take the MAP because they or their parents asked that they be excused. Spring testing is still under way.

Despite the protest, schools are still giving the tests by using administrators or parents or others to proctor the exams.

Students from kindergarten through ninth grade in Seattle have been taking the MAP reading and math tests two to three times a year for four to five years, depending on the school.

Taken on computer, MAP tests are designed to measure academic skills independent of grade level. The idea is to find where students’ skills lie rather than determine whether a fourth-grader can pass a fourth-grade test.

Banda’s decision covers the upcoming 2013-14 school year. He plans to appoint a new task force to help him decide what to do after that.

Banda also said Monday that MAP testing will be required in fall and spring, not winter and spring, as was the case this school year.

He stressed that MAP tests should never be the sole factor in determining whether students are eligible for any particular program or class, though he acknowledged that has happened.

He also said teachers will receive more training in how to use the MAP and that the district will work to make sure schools have the necessary technology.

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

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