Schools testing commission focuses on changing testing structure

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By Rachel Bluth

For MarylandReporter.com

Photo by biologycorner with Flickr Creative Commons License

Photo by biologycorner with Flickr Creative Commons License

Students in Maryland are one step closer to potentially shorter standardized tests and more projects. The Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools met again Tuesday, though no official decisions were made about the future of standardized tests.

“Teachers have told us, and parents and everybody, that there is way too much testing that’s taking instructional time,” said Cheryl Bost, the vice president of the Maryland State Education Association and in attendance at the meeting.

The commission discussed making a statewide test on civics and social studies, the Government High School Assessment, not mandatory for graduation. Commission members like Laurie Halverson, a parent in Montgomery County, suggested putting test scores on transcripts to motivate students to take them seriously.

None of the proposals will be final until the commission presents a final draft of its proposals and findings to the General Assembly, State Board of Education and local boards of education in July, but Tuesday’s meeting helped focus some of the ideas.

Rather than setting a firm limit on testing, commissioners focused on ways the tests could be changed. Commission members proposed letting districts choose a more demonstrative assessments, like a project, like a paper or presentation graded on a rubric, instead of a test.

They also debated a similar proposal for assessing social studies in middle school as well.

“We know some type of assessment needs to be done,” said Guffrie Smith, president of the Maryland State Board of Education. “In this climate of too much testing, having an eighth grade test is not the best thing, because that’s one of the areas that has the most testing as it is.”

Instead of mandating a state test in eighth grade, the commission considered modeling social studies assessment after guidelines for measuring environmental literacy, which would value things like participating in Maryland History Day, doing rubric-based projects, administering a final exam or using quarterly tests that already exist.

School testing commission meets for first time in Nov. 2015.

Maryland’s school testing commission meets for the first time in Nov. 2015.

Reducing stress of tests

In a high school setting, commission members worked on methods to de-emphasize the stress and importance of tests — such as the High School Assessments that are required for graduation — by changing the length and structure of the test so that it can be administered during class periods.

Currently, these tests are given to hundreds of students at a time in one room with several proctors, which disrupts schedules and stresses students, according to Harford County math teacher and commission member Laura Potter.

“It becomes an event,” Potter said of the large tests.

In response to teacher complaints that another test — the college and career readiness assessment or PARCC — was not “developmentally appropriate” for the lower grades, the commission also considered ways for the districts to gather more feedback from teachers about the tests to pass along to testmakers.

The commission also considered implementing local audits to find out if tests at the school and district level in each jurisdiction were duplicative and if the results were being reported and used in a timely way, according to Janet Wilson, the superintendent of Garrett County Schools.

Commission member wary of setting specific limits

There was discussion in the Maryland General Assembly this session of limiting testing to 2% of class time.

Though they agree with the idea of limiting testing, Potter said she didn’t support the 2% cap because it puts the state in a position to dictate to local school districts.

“The LEAs (local education associations) should be responsible for looking at their assessment practices and looking at how to reduce testing in their own school systems,” Potter said.

Del. Eric Ebersole, D-Baltimore, said part of the issue is convincing parents and communities that tests have value in improving teaching methods.

“Right now it’s being used to pit schools against each other, who has the better scores and where do you want to live … it would have to be a change in the way people look at things,” he said.

Rachel Bluth can be reached at rbluth@umd.edu.

  • Lisa Moore

    This whole testing thing is a nightmare that MSDE and the Governors office has let continue. We need to tell Pearson to hit the road and drop the use of the Common Core. PARCC ALG I and PARCC ELA 10 should NOT be a graduation requirement….in fact I believe that it is against the law. PARCC was designed to test the implementation of the Common Core in the classroom….not students. To use these as graduation requirements is setting the state up for massive lawsuits. The idea of public education is to turn out good , well rounded, citizens and nothing more…it is not to make children widgets for the economic czars. Keeping PARCC will have many students denied a high school diploma and guess what happens when a young person is NOT able to say that they have a HS diploma on a job application? All of this is just getting ridiculous.

    I do believe that there should be high school graduation tests. They should be for proficiency in reading (4th grade level), basic writing, computation of basic math skills and government. NOTHING MORE! Not every child wants or needs to be “college and career ready”. Teachers are professionals and it’s about time that state officials start treating them as such. I will trust a teacher to assess my child’s learning over any score on a Big Standardized test. Children are not standardized and their tests should not be standardized. Children are not widgets, test scores, data points or numbers. Del. Ebersole should go sit in a classroom for a week and then come back and have a discussion about how test scores can NEVER improve teaching methods.

    The only people getting rich in this scheme are the test makers and education reformers with their “creative ideas”. The schools get less money, the teachers get less pay and the ones suffering from this debacle are the children. As the adults sitting in the room, these people need to start thinking about who will be taking care of them and making decisions for them when they get old and frail…it will be the dumbed down, forced standardized product of this dysfunctional educational system making the decisions. Sure does scare me!

  • Deb

    In addition to Lisa’s comments already here, I’m annoyed to see that there is still not discussion (at least not mentioned here) about how scores are used. Around the country and yes, in Maryland, more and more families are not taking PARCC, especially in elementary school (our family is one of them). In many states, tests that re not taken are simply marked as “untaken” or “refused” and not scored, but here in MD those are scored as zeroes and those zeroes held against schools (and ultimately teachers), which is patently unfair. I’ve suggested repeatedly that this issue also be looked at when looking at changing up how testing is done in MD and gotten ZERO response. VERY frustrating to be continually unheard on this issue (among the other problems with PARCC).

  • PhillipMarlowe

    While it is nice the commission wants input from teachers on tests, that is not possible particularly with PARCC. Educators who are involved with testing sign a form stating they will not make notes, take pictures, talk about, or even look at the test. Do so, and they will be shoveling crap in Louisianna.