Standardized Tests are Target of Proposed Commission, Budget Debate

By Rebecca Lessner, for

Legislators hoped to “reclaim the education system” by grappling with several concerns about standardized tests in the state and the way they’ve overtaken the school calendar.

With the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing being newly implemented this year, legislators are reacting to complaints from constituents and teachers about excessive testing hours.

The PARCC tests were put in place in order to match standardized testing with the new Common Core curriculum so students are tested on the material being taught.

The topic is on lawmakers’ minds, with proposals about PARCC and adding civic questions to government tests coming up as legislation and even budget amendments.

Senators unanimously passed SB 497, sending it to the House Wednesday morning. The bill creates a 19-person commission, including two delegates and two senators, dedicated to studying the effectiveness of Maryland assessments and standardized tests in public schools.

“It’s cumulative,” said bill sponsor Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s County, referring to the vast mass of tests administered to students, “some kids are only getting two or four days in between these tests.”

A sister bill in the House, HB 452 which was sponsored by Del. Eric Ebersole, D-Baltimore-Howard, a seasoned high school math teacher.

Commission would look for unnecessary testing

The commission would report back to the General Assembly any findings of the tests being “duplicative or otherwise unnecessary,” according to the Department of Legislative Services.

“How can we do this better and why are we administering some of these tests?” asked Pinsky.

Pinsky believes reassessing tests to find where they overlap may “reduce the loss of instruction time” by cutting excessive testing.

Pinsky plans to plead the bill’s case with House legislators next week, when his bill is planned to be heard. The identical House bill has already had a hearing.

House debates budget amendment changing tests

As that bill gained ground in the Senate, an amendment to the state budget was treading water in the House.

Del. David Vogt, R-Carroll and Frederick Counties, proposed to amend the state budget to withhold $34 million in funding from the Maryland State Education Department (MSDE), unless they immediately replaced Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing with an alternative. But the amendment ultimately failed, receiving a 40 to 98 vote on the House floor.

The amendment proposed to use Smarter Balanced Assessments until the 19-person commission is created to suggest a better solution.

Vogt found that the Smarter Balanced Assessments could be implemented now with existing computers, already installed for the PARCC.

The Smarter Balanced testing aligns with Common Core standards, as the PARCC’s do, but also gives the option of ‘interim assessments,’ which “will provide educators with actionable information about student progress throughout the year,” and “help teachers, students, and parents understand whether students are on track,” said the website.

“I urge my colleagues to take action to reclaim local control over our schools and classrooms, and to stop ignoring the pleas of thousands of Marylanders who have been outspoken in their distrust, dislike, and disgust of PARCC testing,” said Vogt.

Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery County, argued against the amendment, saying that to see results from PARCC school systems must hold strong, since this has only been their first year implemented.

“Every assessment will have faults and that is why the contract allows reconfiguration, each year, after administered,” said Kaiser, who chairs the education policy subcommittee. “We must move forward, anything that needs to be fixed can be.”

Before implemented, the PARCC’s were “field tested” in every school, Kaiser said, Now that teachers are familiar with it, it would be a mistake to jump onto a new test.

“This would set us back in the progress we made,” agreed Ebersole.

One proposal would add civic questions to testing

While the concerns over too much testing flew around the State House, Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel County, is worried over the lack of civic knowledge in high school students.

Simonaire proposed a minimum of 10 questions from the U.S. Citizenship Naturalization Test be included in the government high school assessment (HSA).

The senator believes SB 806 will provide incentive for high schoolers to learn the basic parts of our government structure.

Michael Farlow, adjunct professor in Salisbury University’s political science department, has found that students going through entry level courses at the university failed to answer even the most basic questions in the Naturalization Test.

“If we are requiring this of some citizens, saying at the very foundation of coming to America you should know this as a minimal, shouldn’t we be teaching that to our students?” said Simonaire.

If passed the bill would take effect in October this year, in time for the 2016-2017 school year.

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