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.

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