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Seattle schools back down from standardized test after protests

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The Seattle public school system, facing a rebellion that stoked the national protest movement over standardized testing in U.S. public schools, is backing away from the contentious multiple-choice exam for its upcoming school year.

Teachers, educators, and students at several Seattle schools staged a boycott in January against the computerized Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, saying it was not aligned with the state's curriculum and produces "meaningless results" upon which teachers' performances are evaluated.

The school system, which serves more than 45,000 students, had initially threatened protesting teachers with punishment, including a possible 10-day unpaid suspension, according to a memo obtained by Reuters. It later softened its stance, saying no teachers would be penalized.

"High schools can opt out for the next academic year but they have to show evidence of another way to assess and monitor students," Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Lesley Rogers said on Tuesday, referring to the test which is currently required twice a year in Seattle.

The backlash fueled the bitter national fight over how best to improve U.S. public schools, which leave many American children lagging their counterparts in countries like Finland and South Korea.

The boycott had garnered support from labor unions and was mirrored in cities on both coasts, where students protested over state-required exams they must pass to graduate.

Elsewhere, more than 500 school boards in Texas - and several large school districts in Florida - have passed resolutions demanding a reduced focus on standardized tests.

"This is a very big step for creating some sanity in testing as opposed to this endless test fixation that has taken over America," Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told Reuters.

Standardized tests have played an ever more prominent role in public schools over the past decade and, increasingly, they carry high stakes, such as factoring into teacher evaluations and deciding if a student can advance to the next grade or earn a high-school diploma.

To prepare students for those high-stakes exams, and to monitor their academic progress more closely, many school districts - like Seattle - give additional standardized tests throughout the year.

Even as he announced the move backing off the MAP test requirement for the next academic year, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda, cited a survey by the local teachers' union that showed a majority of members found the MAP effective in identifying at-risk students and in measuring growth.

"Using data is important in our work as educators," Banda wrote.

Nearly 600 students abstained from the test, not counting the spring testing cycle, which began on April 22, the district said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)

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