Photo above: The bill creating the commission to study school testing was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Larry Hogan. Sponsor Del. Eric Ebersole stands between Hogan and House Speaker Michael Busch, joined by staff and members of the Maryland State Education Association.
By Rebecca Lessner
Maryland lawmakers decided the first step to solving over-testing in Maryland public schools is to understand the full problem, so they passed a bill creating a 19-member commission that will attempt to alleviate the pressure of excessive student testing.
The Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools became law Tuesday, as Gov. Hogan signed HB 452 into law.
Many states have begun assessing the effectiveness of their own testing standards. The nationwide scrutiny comes in response to testing increasingly taking center stage in the classroom — at the expense of meaningful learning time, according to testing critics.
“It’s a big issue that parents, legislators and educators all agree on,” said Sean Johnson, assistant executive at the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA).
After spending 35 years teaching mathematics in Howard County, sponsor Del. Eric Ebersole, D-Baltimore and Howard, knows firsthand how excessive testing holds up the progression of other classes, as teachers are pulled out of their classrooms to administer the federal and state mandated tests that can last more than two hours.
“A school can be ground to a halt,” said Ebersole. “There is a lot of infrastructure that goes into testing and it uses a lot of manpower.”
Commission versus eliminating tests?
Ebersole was often asked “why not just eliminate tests, is the commission necessary?”
“Testing is pretty well entrenched in our education philosophy,” said Ebersole. “We need a commission with credible results in order to cause policy changes.”
Testing is used to evaluate teacher and student performance, but it is also tied in with school ratings, funding that comes with a high- or low- performing schools and graduation requirements.
“The high stakes nature of it all, whether it’s funding, graduation or employment status, is a concern for everybody,” said Johnson.
According to Johnson, there is no uniform amount of testing done across Maryland jurisdictions. Similar subjects may be lumped into one test or separated depending on school preference. He hopes the commission will establish uniformity across all jurisdictions.
Clarification 5/14/15: Since MSEA does not have the goal of making all local jurisdictions give exactly the same tests, it would be more accurate to say Johnson seeks uniformity in how schools count the amount of testing taking place in their schools.
An analysis conducted by the Baltimore Sun in November found that in Baltimore County students can spend up to 46 hours testing, while in Carroll County students spend 14 hours.
Not yet appointed
The commission will consist of two delegates and two senators to represent the General Assembly and 15 other stakeholders, as appointed by the governor.
MSEA is eager to get as many qualified and diverse voices as possible before the governor for a decision, including educators, parents, education experts and administrators.
Also ready to volunteer is the bill sponsor.
“I’m not going in with an agenda on exactly what this commision should do,” said Ebersole, adding he would listen to the experts and review results.
The commission will present its findings and suggest the next step to the General Assembly by July 2016.
Problems at national level
Parents chose to remove 173,000 of their children from state testing in New York last month, in response to issues with Common Core standards and teachers being more heavily evaluated on student performance.
“Opting out” is gaining ground as an alternative to testing in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Michigan and New York, but Maryland State Department of Education requests parents not opt their children out of a state test.
Classrooms are also attempting to adjust to Common Core testing standards. Maryland followed the 45 states and the District of Columbia in the use of the new standards last year through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests.
Building frustrations have put pressure on Congress to reassess the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Under No Child Left Behind, “100% of students need to score proficient on state assessments beginning in spring 2014, a standard that is impossible for almost every school in every state to meet,” said the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
No Child Left Behind requires states to annually assess students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12. It also requires states to test students in science once in grades 3-5, 6-8, and 10-12.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted unanimously in favor of the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which would allow states to decide the “weight” of federal test outcomes, rather than federal government. It now goes before the full Senate for a floor vote.