By Len Lazarick
The state teachers union and their allies in the legislature are backing a series of measures to reduce standardized testing in Maryland public schools, apparently dissatisfied with the pace of a commission on testing they pushed for last year.
“The commission will continue to meet to work out many of the details important to educators and local school systems,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, who serves on the commission and was the Senate sponsor of its creation. “However, we believe some progress can be made this legislative session without losing another year for students.”
The announcement on the package of testing bills was released from the offices of House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller.
Gov. Larry Hogan signed the commission into law in May, but the commission didn’t start meeting till November because the governor’s office was slow to appoint 14 of its 19 members.
The status of standardized testing in public schools has also been reshaped by Congress in December when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act to replace No Child Left Behind. This legislation gave the states broader discretion on testing.
No use of tests to evaluate teachers, cap on testing time
According to Del. Eric Ebersole, D-Baltimore-Howard, a retired math teacher who serves on the commission and sponsored its creation as well, the bills will include a ban on the use of state mandated tests to be used in teacher evaluations. That is a long-standing concern of teachers.
Another bill he will introduce will require that parents be notified of tests their children will take and when and how they will take them. He said he and other teachers would hear from parents, “I didn’t know they were taking the test.”
Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, another former teacher, says he has just submitted legislation that will cap standardized testing at 2% of instructional time.
He came up with the 2% figure based on what New York state has done and what President Obama has suggested.
“The implementation would be a little more complicated,” Luedtke said.
Urgent problem requiring immediate action, union says
A half-hour after the Democratic leadership announced the testing initiative, the Maryland State Education Association praised the action in its own press release.
“Standardized testing is taking more and more time away from learning,” said MSEA President Betty Weller. “The average student sits for more than 200 tests throughout their time in school, with some students taking more than 50 hours of testing a year. This is an urgent problem that requires immediate action and we applaud Democratic leadership in the General Assembly for joining our effort for less testing and more learning.”
At the beginning of the school year, the union ran a TV ad campaign advocating “less testing, more learning.”
Not Hogan’s priority
The MSEA press release also took a poke at Gov. Hogan, saying “the move by Democratic leaders stands in contrast with Gov. Larry Hogan, who announced on last Wednesday’s Marc Steiner Show, that addressing over-testing is ‘not a priority’ for his administration this year.”
MSEA was a sponsor of the radio show, and Hogan was responding to a direct question from Weller about testing. Was he going to take action this year “or are you waiting on the state’s recommendations on standardized testing?” she asked.
“I agree with the teachers union on over-testing in general — absolutely — I know we don’t agree on everything, everyday — but that’s one we 100% agree on. I think most people agree that kids are over-tested, and we are wasting too much time teaching to the test, instead of trying to teach the kid more important things. But we’re going to wait and take a look at the state’s recommendations before we take any action.”
“It’s not on our radar screen and it’s not a priority for this session,” Hogan concluded. “We’d be happy to listen to the teachers union and anyone who has thoughts on it.”
The commission’s report is not due until the fall.