For the second year in a row, the Seattle School District reduces its use of a controversial standardized test called MAP.
The Seattle school district has once again scaled back the use of a controversial standardized test that prompted boycotts by teachers and students who assailed it as a waste of time.
The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exam, once taken two to three times a year by students in kindergarten through grade 9, is now required just once a year for students in kindergarten through second grade.
Last year, students in grades 1 and 2 were required to take the test in both spring and fall.
The district began scaling back its use of the test two years ago, after protests that started at Garfield High School, where teachers refused to administer the exam. The MAP, they said, didn’t test students on the material they were learning in the classroom.
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In the spring of 2013, then-superintendent Jose Banda announced that the tests would be optional at Seattle high schools, with the decision made by each school’s leadership team. And last year, MAP became optional for students in grades 3 through 8.
About half the schools in the district replaced MAP with a new test called Amplify, which is aligned to the Common Core standards that have been adopted by most public schools nationwide. Other Seattle schools have pursued other options tied to Common Core, and some have designed their own.
Amplify can be tailored to closely mirror what Seattle students are learning at a particular time of year, and teachers can drill down into the test data to see how well students are mastering specific skills, officials said.
Such tests are known as “benchmark” exams, used to monitor a student’s progress in language arts and math during the course of the year.
This year, schools that use Amplify are required to give the exam in both spring and fall for students in grades 3 through 9. Last year, students took the test three times.
“These exams are a checkpoint, and they give teachers an opportunity to ensure that students are on track to meeting standards,” said Shauna Heath, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction.
The district is encouraging teachers to develop their own informal classroom assessments to be used as needed during the course of the day, week or year to ensure that students are on track to meet standards, Heath said. These could be administered to individual students in a matter of minutes.
“We’re moving towards what we call a balanced assessment framework,” Heath said. This approach would blend the quick classroom assessments with occasional interim exams such as Amplify.
“We want assessment that is meaningful and useful for both students and teachers,” said Shawn Cook, the district’s assessment manager.
The typical Seattle student now spends just under 2 percent of classroom time each year taking standardized tests, Heath said.
That’s a bit lower than average for a large urban school district, according to a recent study by the Council of the Great City Schools, which surveyed 66 major city school systems recently to determine how much testing they do.
Those districts, which included Seattle, spend an average of 2.34 percent of class time each year on standardized tests required by the federal government, the states or the districts themselves — many of them redundant, the council said.
President Obama recently recommended that schools try to limit testing to 2 percent of class time.
“We don’t disagree with that goal,” Heath said.
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