Report leaves testing decision to locals
Recommends setting deadlines, deferring some tests
— Maryland’s commission on public school testing released its final report earlier this month, leaving much of the work in reducing testing to local school systems.
The 84-page report doesn’t recommend an across-theboard testing cut but does suggest changes to some state assessments and also offers several suggestions to limit testing disruption in schools. Local school boards now have until Sept. 1 to accept or reject the commission’s recommendations and the state board has until Oct. 1.
The report was created by a commission of 19 members who met from November to June to hear testimony from groups representing students, teachers, administrators, superintendents, school boards and parent-teacher associations.
Among the commission’s recommendations was not going forward with a proposed state-required social studies assessment for middle school students and not making this
year’s state-required biology HSA exams a graduation requirement because new science standards aren’t fully aligned with these tests.
The commission also suggested loosening requirements on which school staff members can administer exams, creating deadlines for when Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) data is returned to local school districts and setting up a District Committee on Assessment in each of the state’s 24 school systems to study testing at the local level.
Jeff Lawson, Cecil County Public Schools associate superintendent for education services, said he agrees with much of the report’s focus on local control but noted that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the ongoing national debate over testing.
“Before people get concerned about testing, the question needs to be asked: Why are we testing and what are we doing with the results?” he said. “If the testing is to support teacher instruction and student learning, and the results are timely, then I would say no, there isn’t an issue with testing.”
CCPS tries to keep teacher instruction and student learning at the forefront of any tests it gives, Lawson said, and any county-given test always counts for a student’s report card. The school system also does its best to make sure schedules aren’t disrupted by testing. On average, CCPS school principals have reported that they have to alter school schedules for 10 to 15 days a year to accommodate testing, he added.
Lawson pointed to CCPS’s Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) tests as an example of a test that works, though this test is the only county-required test that doesn’t count for a student’s grade.
These hour-long math and reading tests are given to students in second through eighth grade in September, January and May. The tests measure how well students are progressing over the school year and, because they’re taken online, teachers can see a detailed breakdown of student score data the next day. This allows teachers to see if a student is struggling with a specific concept and tailor their lessons accordingly, he said, noting that the test only costs CCPS about $11 per student.
Conversely, the long lag time between students taking the test and the system receiving the results is what makes the PARCC assessment so frustrating, Lawson said. The PARCC test was administered for the first time in the spring of 2015 but CCPS didn’t receive the results until November, leaving little time to adjust curriculum before the next round of testing in the spring, he added.
The committee’s recommendation that PARCC results be returned by July 15 would help with this, as would the proposed statewide committee to examine the PARCC test, Lawson said. The state is improving though, he added, as this year’s PARCC data has already begun to come in.
Lawson also said he could see the benefits of the proposed District Committees on Assessment. CCPS currently already has a secondary grade reporting committee and an elementary grade reporting committee that do similar work, he said.
CCPS is always looking at whether it’s testing students too much and Lawson said he likes that the report leaves many of the decisions about testing up to the local school systems.
“We think we know what we’re doing,” he said, with a laugh.