Ed­u­ca­tors: Maryland must lift man­dated test­ing


On March 20, Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion Betsy DeVos an­nounced that states could ap­ply for waivers al­low­ing stu­dents im­pacted by school clo­sures to be ex­empt from fed­eral test­ing re­quire­ments for the 2019-2020 school year. Af­ter Sec­re­tary DeVos’ an­nounce­ment, Maryland’s State Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon ap­plied and re­ceived a waiver from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Thus far, this is pru­dent and re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sion mak­ing.

But it is im­por­tant for Maryland fam­i­lies and ed­u­ca­tors to un­der­stand that fed­eral and state test­ing man­dates are dif­fer­ent. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­quires states to ad­min­is­ter tests for math, sci­ence and English. The fed­eral waiver ex­empts states from ad­min­is­ter­ing these tests.

How­ever, Maryland has test­ing man­dates of its own (“Maryland schools to re­main closed for the rest of aca­demic year due to coro­n­avirus pan­demic,” May 6). In par­tic­u­lar, and sep­a­rate from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Maryland re­quires stu­dents to pass tests in math, English and so­cial stud­ies in or­der to grad­u­ate. High school seniors need­ing to pass tests in any of these ar­eas have been given a pass by the Maryland State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion for 2020.

Yet many stu­dents who are en­rolled in Al­ge­bra I, English 10, or Gov­ern­ment still need to pass the ex­ams to be el­i­gi­ble for grad­u­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, if your child is cur­rently en­rolled in 10th grade English, they will have to pass that exam be­fore their sched­uled grad­u­a­tion in 2022.

The pub­lic must un­der­stand that stu­dents are go­ing to have to pass tests re­lated to course­work that they have not com­pleted. Not to men­tion the fact that the next rou­tine test­ing date is in Jan­uary of 2021. A stu­dent sit­ting to test for the first time in Jan­uary of 2021will be test­ing nearly a year af­ter last at­tend­ing the cor­re­spond­ing course.

More­over, while MSDE has di­rected lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions to pri­or­i­tize and fo­cus their lessons, the tests will cover the full ar­ray of ma­te­rial. For stu­dents, this is a dou­ble whammy. The on­line learn­ing they are be­ing given rep­re­sents a re­duc­tion in stan­dards di­rected by the state, but the state is telling stu­dents and fam­i­lies that they must pass tests with all the stan­dards. Stu­dents are be­ing set up to fail.

While the con­se­quences of this com­mit­ment to test­ing will fall most dra­mat­i­cally on stu­dents, school-based staff are go­ing to feel this too. As a con­se­quence of fo­cused and pri­or­i­tized in­struc­tion this spring and a test de­layed into next year, more stu­dents will fail the state man­dated ex­ams. The el­e­vated fail­ure rate will force school-based staff to spend more time guid­ing stu­dents through mean­ing­less al­ter­na­tive path­ways to grad­u­a­tion in­stead of plan­ning and im­ple­ment­ing ro­bust and mean­ing­ful in­struc­tion.

And it con­tin­ues be­cause the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of in­creased fail­ing test scores are go­ing to hit al­ready marginal­ized groups: stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, stu­dents lack­ing ac­cess to tech­no­log­i­cal re­sources, stu­dents with un­sta­ble home lives, etc.

Kids who are al­ready be­hind and fac­ing an up­hill strug­gle to grad­u­a­tion are go­ing to face a steeper path­way.

What needs to be done?

On May 27, the Maryland State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion will meet. At this meet­ing, the board should ex­cuse all stu­dents im­pacted by the COVID-19 clo­sures from the re­quire­ment to pass tests to grad­u­ate. There is no way for school sys­tems to re­me­di­ate and re­make the lost learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Hold­ing stu­dents ac­count­able for learn­ing they have missed through no fault of their own is in­ex­cus­able.

This fall is not go­ing to be school­ing as nor­mal. Schools across the state and coun­try are go­ing to be adapt­ing to and over­com­ing chal­lenges which we still can­not fully en­vi­sion. Thus, it is im­per­a­tive that the state school board act swiftly and clearly to re­duce the stress and dif­fi­culty of next school year. A fail­ure to act will tax lo­cal school re­sources, hin­der teach­ers from do­ing their jobs, but, most im­por­tant, harm Maryland stu­dents and fam­i­lies.

Adam Sut­ton and Adam Laye

The writ­ers are Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools so­cial stud­ies chairs. The let­ter was signed by 39 ad­di­tional Maryland ed­u­ca­tors in Anne Arun­del, Bal­ti­more, Howard, Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties.

Add your voice: Re­spond to this piece or other Sun con­tent by sub­mit­ting your own let­ter.

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