O’Malley opposes attempt to stop MSA testing next month

By Glynis Kazanjian


News conference with , and from left, Sens. Paul Pinsky, Nancy King, Richard Madaleno, Del. Sheila Hixson, MSEA President Betty Weller at podium, Dels. Eric Luedtke and Alonzo Washington.

News conference with , and from left, Sens. Paul Pinsky, Nancy King, Richard Madaleno, Del. Sheila Hixson, MSEA President Betty Weller at podium, Dels. Eric Luedtke and Alonzo Washington.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office said Tuesday he stands by a state education department decision to move forward with administering the final Maryland School Assessment (MSA) test in a few weeks, despite efforts by legislators, teachers, unions and school boards to stop it.

Hearings were held Tuesday in a Senate committee and last week in the House on emergency bills that would require the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to ask federal education officials to waive the testing requirement, because the testing material is based on an outdated curriculum.

The governor does not support dropping the test, his spokeswoman said.

“We stand firm [that] the MSAs are still worthwhile,” said press secretary Nina Smith. “The tests provide important information about where student performance is, and we will know which questions are aligned with Maryland’s college ready standards and which are not. This will help inform how we use the data eventually. We are moving forward.”

The MSA test will be phased out after this school year, and a new student assessment test aligned with Maryland’s new Common Core education curriculum will be phased in. But MSDE is requiring school districts to administer the MSA one last time in a few weeks, saying dropping the test might cost the state as much as $280 million in federal funds.

Maryland School Assessment testDemocratic lawmakers and the Maryland Student Education Association, which represents over 70,000 educators in Maryland, made a push Tuesday in Annapolis for a package of bills related to Common Core, including the emergency legislation to halt the MSA tests from being administered in March.

Teachers union wants to slow implementation of Common Core

MSEA had been optimistic that the emergency legislation would easily pass both legislative chambers, leaving only the governor’s signature to enact the bill. But while the teachers union opposes the final test, it is much more concerned with slowing down and improving the implementation of the Common Core curriculum.

“We’ve been encouraged by the support and conversations around this issue, and whether or not we administer the MSA this year we hope that Governor O’Malley, MSDE, and legislative leaders will stand with educators, parents, and students for common sense fixes to the implementation problems that have plagued Common Core thus far,” said Adam Mendelson, communications director for the teacher’s organization.

The state has already spent approximately $15 million out of $22.6 million in contracts preparing for the MSA tests, according to a report by the Department of Legislative Services, the legislature’s research arm.

Federal fines threatened

MSDE Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith testifies at Senate committee.

MSDE Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith testifies at Senate committee.

The U.S. Department of Education has threatened to fine Maryland if it cancels the MSA test, because that would put the schools out of compliance with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which requires students to be tested annually in reading, mathematics and science.

The emergency bills, sponsored by Montgomery County Sen. Nancy King  and Del. Eric Luedtke, would require the state education department to file for a waiver from the test. If a waiver is not granted, the bill would call for the cancellation of the test unless the penalties for cancelling the test worked out to be higher than administering the test.

Even if the governor supported the effort to seek a waiver, the potential financial penalties and the amount of time needed to obtain the waiver before the scheduled March 3 tests, would make the task an uphill battle.

Jack Smith, MSDE’s chief academic officer, told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Tuesday that the potential loss of federal aid is real, as shown in a Washington Post article posted a few hours before about California’s show down with the feds over testing.

Education committee chairman Joan Carter Conway said, “I understand where the teachers are coming from.” But a key question for her is: “Do we lose money or do we not lose money?”

Slowing down Common Core

Ways & Means Chair Sheila Hixson at podium, with Del. Eric Luedtke and MSEA President Betty Weller

Ways & Means Chair Sheila Hixson at podium, with Del. Eric Luedtke and MSEA President Betty Weller. “My priority is getting education reforms done right, instead of rushing to implement new standards and curriculums and evaluations at one time,” said Hixson.

An array of other bills showcased at the Tuesday news conference related to slowing down the implementation of Common Core.

Protecting the autonomy of local school board decisions and creating a Common Core implementation workgroup were top priorities for Democratic lawmakers who attended.

Creating a mechanism for the legislature to review federal waiver requests made by the state education department was also high on the list.

Common Core was developed in partnership with the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Maryland adopted the Common Core curriculum in 2010 and received federal Race to the Top grants to implement an education philosophy that emphasizes college and career readiness by high school graduation.

“A top-down, one-size-fits-all curriculum”

Many of the complaints that surfaced Tuesday, criticized Common Core for being “a top-down, one-size-fits-all curriculum.”

Citing a rushed implementation process and loss of control over education decisions, lawmakers and teachers urged slower implementation of Common Core.

“My priority is getting education reforms done right, instead of rushing to implement new standards and curriculums and evaluations at one time,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, who is co-sponsoring a number of the bills.

MSEA President Betty Weller called the implementation of Common Core a “train wreck.”

“Right now our schools are faced with a tsunami of education reform,” Weller said.”The implementation of these changes has been a train wreck in far too many districts, for far too many students and for far too many educators. We are at risk.”

Len Lazarick contributed to this story.

Related stories:

Teachers, school boards seek to drop standardized tests this year

Lawmakers target controversial new common core curriculum and testing

Common core generates bill to drop old tests in Md. public schools

Repealing Common Core appeals to scores of parents

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. VEE

    A huge problem is that parents do not understand fully what is going on. I am not a parent, I am a teacher. I am also an active union member. At a breakfast that I attended, it was stated by Senator Miller, that he agrees with Dr. Lowery about the MSA, kids should not get unsed to testing. That makes me so mad. Kids get unsed to testing!?! They are being tested even more because of Race to the top. 4th graders in my county are taking a multiple choice written, art and music test. Come on people, seriously? MSA will not reflect anything the students are learning this year because they are on an entirely different curriculum. It is cruel to test kids on something they do not know.

  2. Blee

    Oh, has O’Malley received his degree in Elementary Education? I would LOVE O’Malley to teach my classroom full of kids on different academic levels: IEPs, Corrective Readers, ELL, Above grade level kids and On grade level kids.
    Let’s see how this DATA helps… Objectives that are tested on the MSA aren’t included in the Common Core Curriculum (that is currently being taught). Math data is going to drop, let’s see how Politicians respond to that…OH WAIT: It’s the Teacher’s fault and that teacher must really be incompetent.
    And another thought….let’s take four days out of instruction to implement the MSA. These snow days have been enough to disrupt routines let’s just throw in some more testing days. Who is thinking about our (8 and 9 year old) kids????

    • Deb

      Exactly right – and don’t forget the cost to administer the test too – as if we can’t find something else to do with those millions of dollars. And while individual classes are spending 4 days testing, that happens in a 2-week window, so an elementary school’s schedule is disrupted for 2 WEEKS!

      Teachers and schools don’t get the results back in time to help students or adjust teaching – never have, really, and this year the expenditure of time and $$ will be particularly useless. And in many Maryland counties, the scores from this year’s MSA, which as you correctly pointed out no longer match what’s being taught, will count as part of teacher evaluations. Utter nonsense, to be doing the bidding of a Secretary of Education whose education credibility is nil: NO education degrees, NO teaching experience. And a state Secretary of Education with ties to Eli Broad (another politician who’s a non-teacher) and to Pearson Publishing – who, if I remember correctly, published the MSA…..? (Someone do correct me if I’m wrong.)

      It’s easy to tell how useless the test is this year, though: our neighborhood MCPS elementary has in the past had not one but TWO practice MSA’s beginning even before Thanksgiving; this year they haven’t even bothered. We might even escape the school year without the loud pre-MSA pep rally the Friday before exhorting the children to do well.

  3. Americassage

    O’Malley is a nightmare. He is amongst the worst politicians ever to set foot in Annapolis. If Gansler becomes governor we can expect similar policies, such as a rain tax. Graduation rates and ridiculously low grades on the SAT/Achievement tests do not reflect the paucity of education children receive in Maryland. Keep them stupid and they will always vote to the left.

  4. John

    Of course he does. He has to keep Obama and his group happy if he wants to grow up to be president some day. I never thought I’d agree with the majority of republicans but it’s time to do away with the United States Department of Education. They have over stepped their limits in trying to run the nations public schools with the single goal of destroying the public school system in this country. Arne destroyed the Chicago Public Schools and now he’s taking the show national. This has to be stopped before the harm cannot be undone.

  5. TP

    O’Malley and Lillian Lowery are just lap dogs for Arne Duncan. We don’t need any local board, local superintendents, or even a state superintendent any more now that we have Arne Duncan. I was a lifelong Democrat until O’Bama, Duncan and crew completed their federal takeover. There is a tipping point and O’Malley’s latest action has pushed me over the edge.

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