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As new school assessments begin, Hogan and legislators weigh the issue of testing

As 71,000 Maryland public school students begin taking new tests aligned with the Common Core standards this week, a small group of parents, legislators and advocates are pushing to scale back or eliminate some testing.

And one state legislator is hoping to convince Gov. Larry Hogan to use a nearly forgotten clause in a 2010 agreement with the federal government to ditch the new tests completely.

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A spokeswoman for Hogan said the governor is concerned about new standards put into place in public school classrooms across Maryland last school year. He appears to be leaving open the possibility that he would work to remove both the standards and the test.

"He will be reviewing ways to improve them if they work, or remove them if they don't. He has not made any firm commitment," said Shareese Churchill, Hogan's press secretary.

Under the memorandum of understanding signed five years ago by then-Gov.Martin O'Malley and State School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, subsequent governor's have five months to "affirm in writing" that the state will continue to take part in the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states that came together to write a new test.

Del. David Vogt, a Republican who represents parts of Carroll and Frederick counties, has written a letter to the governor asking him to pull out of the consortium, using the legal language as an out.

"Gov. Hogan has the authority to opt out," Vogt said. "People want PARCC to go away."

If Hogan were to decide he doesn't like the new tests, there is little precedent for him to decide which tests students should take. In the past, the Maryland State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor, have made those decisions.

The only exception was a high school government test which had been axed because of budget cuts. In that case, the legislature decided to override the decision of the state board and put money back in the budget so the test could be given.

The Maryland State Department of Education, the state school board, the teachers unions and local superintendents have been nearly unanimous in their support of the new tests.

However, some legislators would like to reduce the hours and numbers of tests being given in the state. Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, and Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican representing parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, have introduced legislation to create a task force to look into scaling back standardized testing, both the tests that are given by individual school systems and the statewide tests. In addition, they are seeking a two-year moratorium on testing before second grade. The teachers' union supports the legislation.

In addition, a small number of parents are deciding to pull their children out of testing this week. About  a dozen families at the Baltimore Montessori Charter School have decided to refuse to let their children take the tests, said Elena Ritter, a parent of two children who is helping spread the word in her school.

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