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Bill seeks halt to state testing for this year

Laws and LegislationExecutive BranchCredit and DebtArne DuncanU.S. Congress

Two Maryland legislators are sponsoring a bill to halt giving the state's annual tests this year as opposition to the testing grows among teachers, parents and local superintendents.

A bill introduced in the House by Del. Eric G. Luedtke, a Montgomery Democrat, would force state education officials to seek a waiver from the federal law that requires the annual standardized tests, which are given in March. The sponsors say that the Maryland School Assessments would serve no purpose this year because students are being taught a new curriculum but tested on the old one.

"Parents are in an uproar over this all across the state. There is a lot of support for the bill," said Sen. Nancy J. King, a Democrat who plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

While the bill may gain support in classrooms across the state, it appears unlikely to gain the support of the state's education leaders or Gov. Martin O'Malley. And even if it did pass and Maryland asked for a waiver, the federal government would be unlikely to grant it.

State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said this week that she is in favor of the testing, and that federal and state laws require the tests to be given every year in reading and math in grades three through eight.

In addition, she said, it is too late for the state to back out of a contract with the testing company. If the legislature passes the bill and the governor signs it, state education leaders would have to ask for the waiver "knowing what we are asking for is patently illegal," said a state school board member, James H. DeGraffenreidt.

A spokesman for O'Malley said that the governor would be "unlikely" to sign the current bill and that he "is of the same mindset" as Lowery.

But teachers and superintendents say giving the test this year will yield little valuable information and is a waste of time. On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to support the bill.

"There is a tremendous amount of frustration from everyone in the education community right now," said Luedtke, a teacher.

The problem for Maryland and many other states across the nation is that what is being taught in classrooms does not align with what is being tested, as teachers begin transitioning to the new, more rigorous Common Core standards. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia signed onto the standards. New tests are being developed and Maryland will field-test those in the spring.

Last year, MSA scores declined significantly for the first time in a decade, which state officials blamed on the switch to the new standards. The gaps between what is taught and what is tested are expected to be greater this year, educators say.

Luedtke said he believes it "is ridiculous" for schools to waste two weeks giving outdated tests when students could be learning new material.

The association representing the state's superintendents and the Maryland State Education Association, which represents the majority of the state's public school teachers, have supported a moratorium on testing since July.

"We support the bill to stop the MSA from being given this year because schools should be focused on teaching, learning, and getting the Common Core right, rather than wasting hours preparing for and taking a now-meaningless test that will not reflect student learning or help teachers improve their practice," Betty Weller, president of the MSEA, said in an email.

The genesis of the problem is the failed attempts to have Congress rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, widely viewed as needing updating. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has given states waivers from some portions of the law. If states refuse to give the annual tests, Duncan could withhold federal funds from those states.

Lowery said she believes Maryland might have to give back about $250 million in federal funds if it refused to give the testing this year.

The bill, however, says that if Lowery asks for a waiver from testing and does not get a response within two weeks of the test, she should give the tests if Maryland would be jeopardizing federal funds that amount to more than the cost of the testing.

The state has said the testing costs about $9 million.

Luedtke said that even if the bill does end up being symbolic, at least it makes a point. "At some point we need to stand up and demand that the federal government fix NCLB," he said.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationExecutive BranchCredit and DebtArne DuncanU.S. Congress
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