Common Core legislation advances; use of tests for teacher evaluations would be delayed

By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Maryland School Assessment testLegislation designed to solve problems created by the implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards advanced in the House and Senate Thursday.

A bill to delay the use of testing on Common Core standards in teacher evaluations until 2016-2017 passed the Senate with only one dissenting vote, while the House version received a favorable report from the Ways and Means Committee, sending it to the House floor.

Two other bills dealing with the new Common Core standards, HB1001 and HB1164, also were approved by the Ways and Means Committee Thursday.

Both SB676, sponsored by Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, and HB1167, sponsored by 46 delegates led by Ways & Means Chair Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, would require the state to delay using student performance data from standardized tests as an evaluation tool in personnel decisions until the 2016-17 school year.

Maryland is currently switching from the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) standardized tests to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. The bills aim to give students and teachers time to adjust to the new models.

Legislation to eliminate the MSA tests this year was opposed by state education officials and the governor, and the tests were administered earlier this month, though there were some snow delays.

Not afraid of accountability, teachers say

bill ferguson

Sen. Bill Ferguson

“We’re not afraid of accountability,” Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller had said in the House hearing on the testing bill. “We’ve worked very hard on the state default model, and each locality has worked very hard in collaboration with their school systems to create the new evaluation systems. What we need now is the time necessary and the resources to get these reforms right.”

Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, the only dissenting vote on the measure in the Senate, actually agrees with the main argument for the bill. Ferguson points out, however, that the Maryland State Department of Education has already filed a request for a flexibility waiver with the U.S. Department of Education that includes a delay in the use of student performance data.

In the past the federal government has supported requests to delay the use of student performance data in personnel decisions. However, if the U.S. Department of Education denies this waiver, the law could put Maryland in conflict with the department, and jeopardize the state’s federal education funding.

“I would have let the waiver hold,” Ferguson said. “I would have let that process move forward because they said they intended fully to not include student growth until 2016-17 anyway. So I felt like adding that part of the law didn’t do anything practically, and it sets up a conflicting situation if our waiver is not accepted.”

These considerations did not come up in the House Ways and Means committee, which unanimously gave the House version of the bill a favorable report later on that day.

Legislative review of waivers, workgroup on implementation

Two additional bills also received favorable reports from Ways and Means Thursday.  HB1001, sponsored by Hixson and 46 other delegates, requires that any waiver from the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act that the state’s Department of Education submits to federal officials must first be consistent with the state education law and must first be reviewed by the governor and members of the legislature.

HB1164, sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, calls for the creation of a workgroup to review implementation of Common Core and PARCC. The workgroup would be made up of legislators, state education officials, representatives of teachers, PTAs, students and academic experts. It is supposed to be created quickly and make recommendations to the governor and legislature by September.

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