Maryland officials are dropping the state’s standardized test — known by parents, teachers and students as simply PARCC — in favor of something shorter and they hope more popular.
Maryland is one of just a handful of states still giving the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, once used in dozens of states, but criticized as too time-consuming and too disruptive to the school schedule. It’s also difficult — less than half of Maryland students can pass it.
The state is seeking bids from contractors to design a new assessment that requires less time to take and grade, but it will not be ready for use until the 2019-2020 school year. So the state will spend another $11 million to continue testing with PARCC this spring.
The impetus for change came from Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon and Gov. Larry Hogan, who said he got many complaints.
“Nearly everyone in Maryland — parents, teachers, students and the governor want these tests to end,” Hogan said at a Board of Public Works meeting last month.
The PARCC tests were first conceived as a way to allow student achievement scores to be compared across the nation. Dozens of states had moved in 2010 to adopt the Common Core standards, a set of skills that students are expected to master in math and English in each grade, and the new test allowed comparisons among states.
While the standards have survived in many states, including Maryland, the PARCC emerged just as a backlash against standardized testing began to ripple through the nation.
It didn’t help that PARCC testing required schools to clear their schedules for several weeks each spring, disrupting classes, and provide computers for students to take the tests in grades 3 through 8, as well as twice in high school.
As teachers became more vocal about their dislike of so much testing, the Maryland General Assembly set up a task force several years ago to study how to reduce testing. Some Baltimore city teachers suggested it had squeezed out art, music, history and foreign language classes so that more time could be spent on the subjects that were tested — math and English.
In an unusual alignment, the state’s largest teachers union agrees with Hogan. Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said most educators are in favor of ditching PARCC.
“Educators across the state do feel we could do better than PARCC,” Bost said. “Whatever the next test is, it has to be shorter, it has be useful.”
The PARCC test results are released in the summer, long after schools have closed and teachers can adjust their teaching to help students improve.
Ideally, Bost said, educators would get the results of the test shortly after it is given in the spring.
Carol A. Williamson, the state’s chief academic officer, expects that any new test will be computer adaptive, meaning the testing software will judge the student’s academic level and adjust the questions as a result. When students begin the test, they will be given a range of difficult and easy questions. After a student completes that first group of questions, the computer will then calculate the student’s academic level and aim subsequent questions at slightly above and slightly below that level.
The technique will allow for a shorter testing time, Williamson said.
Not everyone is happy to see the test go. Maryland State school board member David Steiner points to studies that have shown the PARCC test to be the most rigorous of any in the nation. While recognizing the test is unpopular politically, he has expressed concern that a new test will not hold students to the same standards as the PARCC.
“A result on PARCC and a result on the new assessment should mean the same thing,” Steiner said.
So if a student scored a four or five score, which is passing, on the PARCC, he said, the student should receive the same score on the new test.
It is a view shared by Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises, whose district saw a significant increase in PARCC scores last spring. She said it is vital that the new test keeps standards high. When she talks about the PARCC test with city teachers and principals — even those who dislike the test — they all agree it is a "more rigorous assessment that truly reflects college-and-career ready skills."
She'll be watching to see how comparable any new test is to the PARCC.
"Everyone wants to make the newest exam the enemy. I don't view it that way," Santelises said. "I hope we're not backing away from a standard that those who have successfully navigated the college-and-career pathway know is what is truly needed for young people."
Williamson said Maryland’s curriculum, which is based on the Common Core standards, will not change.
“We will still have the same standards,” she said.
The new test, like the old one, will be given in grades three through eight in math and English and in 10th grade for English. Students will take the Algebra I test after they complete the course whether that is in seventh grade for advanced students or as late as ninth grade for other students.
The new test also involves a new acronym — MCAP, short for the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program.