By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle Public Schools will not punish educators who staged a boycott of a widely used standardized test in January and has loosened testing requirements, in a victory for a local revolt that stoked the national protest movement over assessments in U.S. public schools.
Teachers, educators, and students at several Seattle schools decided to boycott the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test starting in January, saying it was not aligned with Washington 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.
The district appeared to soften its stance in February, with an official saying that only educators responsible for administering the test, not those teachers merely voicing opposition, could be punished. The district now says that no teachers will be punished.
"There will be no discipline of any test administrator," Jose Banda, Seattle Public Schools superintendent, wrote on the district's website on Friday.
Banda also said the district will cut back on testing for some students. For the spring stretch of testing, which begins on April 22, only ninth-grade students who are below grade level on state reading exams will have to take the reading portion of MAP, he said.
"No doubt this is great news for the teachers who took a risk to (do) what is right for their students," said Kris McBride, a testing coordinator and one of the leaders of the boycott. Dozens of teachers took part in the protest.
McBride said top officials had told principals and vice principals at schools to give the test themselves, sidestepping boycotting educators - and the need for disciplinary action.
The protest fueled a bitter political battle over how best to reinvigorate U.S. public schools, which have left American children lagging their counterparts in countries like Finland and South Korea.
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.
Seattle Public Schools have given the computerized, multiple choice MAP test three times a year since 2009, on top of two other state-mandated exams.
District wide, a total of 459 parents opted for their children not to take the test and another 133 students did not take it, Banda said.
The Seattle protest received support from the nation's largest teachers' unions and was mirrored by dozens of high school students in Portland, Oregon, who launched a boycott in February over state-required exams students must pass to graduate.
In Providence, Rhode Island, high school students splattered themselves with fake blood and pretended to be zombies to protest a similar move by state education officials.
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.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)