Parents and teachers who don’t want students to take the soon-to-be phased-out Maryland School Assessment tests this year have gained an ally in the state legislature.
State Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village said Monday she is drafting emergency legislation that would direct the Maryland State Department of Education to apply for a waiver from the federal government so schools can bypass the test this year.
The bill will be submitted the first day of the General Assembly’s session, King said.
The annual test has been used to assess elementary and middle school students’ performance but Maryland is now transitioning to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers test, a new state assessment that aligns with the Common Core State Standards.
The PARCC test — which will be piloted in some Montgomery County schools this year — will not be fully implemented in Maryland until next school year.
King said she has heard from teachers, parents and others who are concerned that the MSA tests don’t align with schools’ curriculums — which are based on the Common Core standards — and will waste instructional time and won’t benefit the students.
“It’s exhausting for these kids to take these tests,” she said. “They take so much time preparing for it.”
Her proposed legislation also will call for a report by the end of February stating whether the state would face a penalty if it did not give the tests and how much that penalty would be.
If the penalty costs less than the amount it costs to implement the tests, King said, it would be worth it to cancel the test.
State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery wants the state to stick with the MSA this year to measure student performance. The assessment data will be useful for instruction and professional development purposes, she said.
The state education department, Lowery said, is in the process of sending representatives to local jurisdictions in part to talk about how schools can use the MSA data.
Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville — who will act as the lead house sponsor of the bill — said he is concerned about the loss of instructional time and thinks the test should be part of a broader conversation about school reform in the state.
“Given the comments from the state department of education, I am not optimistic that they will voluntarily go back on the [MSA] test, but I am optimistic that, given the broad support for changing this paradigm among the community, that we can see some changes over the long term,” he said.
The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations — which includes about 50,000 members — has also joined the call to cancel the test this year.
The council’s board of directors adopted a resolution Dec. 5 that directed the group to write a letter to Lowery and the Maryland State Board of Education urging them to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. The council board also voted to send a letter to the county school board urging them to advocate for the test’s cancellation.
Janette Gilman, the PTA council’s president, said the council’s board thinks “it doesn’t make a lot of sense” for kids to take the test if the results don’t show what they’re learning.
She said another important question, however, is the potential financial implications.
Tiferet Ani, a social studies teacher in the Quince Orchard cluster, started a MoveOn.org petition titled “Cancel the MSA,” which — as of Tuesday — had grown to include about 768 signatures from around the state, up from about 400 signatures in early November. Luedtke said he supports Ani’s petition and King said she had seen the petition on Facebook.
Ani, who has administered the test four times, said she thinks the test would be a waste of time and resources this year.
William Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said that local school districts don’t have any flexibility on whether they give the test.
Maryland must continue to test students with the MSA this year based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which requires that certain students be tested each year on reading and math with the state-approved assessment, Reinhard said.
The state intends to follow the federal law, he said.
Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the county school system, said in an email that Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is concerned about giving tests that don’t match what students are learning.
“If we have to give the tests, we will do so — that’s not a choice we have,” Tofig said in the email. “But, we want our community to understand that the tests as they are now do not provide meaningful insight into how our students and staff are performing.”