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Mindless testing fails kids [Commentary]

Laws and LegislationCultureU.S. Department of Education

This spring, tens of thousands of children across Maryland will be made to sit for hours in dead silent classrooms under the incessant flickering of fluorescent lights to take the Maryland School Assessment, a standardized test that serves little purpose and has little value in educating students.

Their teachers are highly trained professionals experienced in planning and delivering engaging instruction to prepare our kids for the 21st century. However, instead of doing this vital job, teachers will be made to wander in circles around their classrooms staring at bored children answering their hundredth multiple choice question.

In any normal year, the MSA possesses little real benefit to students or their schools. The MSA has always been such a poorly designed test that it is utterly useless for judging what students know and still need to learn. Teachers cannot make much use of it for grouping or recommending course placements for students, and the test does not provide the information needed to identify the specific skills that need to be worked on with individual students. Simply put it is not designed for these purposes. The MSA has always been a poor measure of the complex work we do in the classrooms. How could a largely multiple choice test possibly measure critical thinking? Collaboration? Creativity? These are essential skills in the modern economy. Yet Maryland's leaders judge our schools not on how well they prepare kids for the real world but how well they prepare kids to complete endless batteries of rote multiple-choice questions.

But the 2014 MSA will be even more infuriating than usual. Maryland schools have already begun shifting over to a new curriculum, the Common Core, which the MSA does not test. In other words, students this year will be taught one thing and will be tested on something completely different. As a result, the Maryland State Department of Education has admitted the obvious, that the tests cannot be used to gauge school progress. Unfortunately, due to a ridiculous federal mandate being enforced by the United States Department of Education, we are still going to administer this test — a test that is meaningless for students, teachers and schools.

And to do it, Maryland's schools will be giving up days of valuable instructional time during which kids could have been learning. Time that could be used to teach the basic math and science skills students will need in our increasingly technologically oriented economy. Time that could have been spent improving the reading skills of students so they can fully participate in our literate society. Time that social studies teachers like us could be using to prepare our students to be full participants in American democracy. Time that would be better spent on almost anything except a meaningless test. And for robbing our children of this opportunity to learn, Maryland taxpayers will be on the hook for about $6 million.

Rather than simply going along with such a ridiculous federal mandate, state officials should be standing up for our students. State Superintendent Lillian Lowery and others have argued that our hands are tied by federal law, that to not test would endanger federal funds for education. Yet California's leaders have rejected the federal threat and canceled their tests for this year, choosing instead to pilot the new test they are planning to roll out. Other states have created shorter, interim tests that won't take away so much instructional time. To Ms. Lowery and others, we would say this: If the federal government's actions are harming Maryland's children, you have a responsibility to resist them. You have a responsibility to stand up publicly and refuse to undermine the education of Maryland's students. You have a responsibility to cancel the 2014 MSA.

Tiferet Ani and Eric Luedtke are middle school social studies teachers in Montgomery County. Eric Luedtke is also a member of the House of Delegates. His email is Eric.Luedtke@house.state.md.us. Ms. Ani's email is Tiferet_M_Ani@mcpsmd.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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