Maryland State Board of Education votes to delay standardized tests until fall

Students across Maryland will not be taking standardized tests this spring after the state school board voted Thursday afternoon to delay the tests until fall.

The vote came just 10 days after Maryland’s state superintendent told the board she supported giving the tests this spring to every student — learning in-person or from home — in grades three through eight in math and English, as well as in some high school grades.


School board members noted the public backlash to the decision to go ahead with testing at a time when the U.S. Department of Education was offering states flexibility in how they give the federally mandated assessments.

Educators and education officials across the state expressed concerns that the tests would not adequately reflect what students had learned during the pandemic. In addition, they raised questions about the length of the tests — about seven hours — and the difficulty in taking precious time away from students as they return to in-person learning after a year out of the schools.


Test security also was expected to be a challenge, given that about 50% of students continue to learn online from home and some students still don’t have adequate internet or laptops.

School Superintendent Karen Salmon said the tests given in the fall would be diagnostic tests, not the full assessments. The English diagnostic test is 2 hours, 20 minutes and the math test is 1 hour, 20 minutes, both about half the time of the full assessments.

At a special meeting called Thursday to discuss the testing, Salmon said she had not yet told Maryland’s 24 superintendents that she was proposing the change, but she expected they would react with enthusiasm.

At its meeting Wednesday before the state board decision, Anne Arundel County’s school board passed a resolution saying it disagreed with giving the tests this spring and requests “the greatest flexibility allowable by law in implementing standardized tests for all local school districts.”

Anne Arundel County Superintendent George Arlotto said Wednesday he also would not be in favor of pushing the testing to the fall when students might be returning to school full time. If testing has to be done, he said, “Let’s get it out of the way now and cause as little impact on instruction as possible.”

A spokesman for the school system, Bob Mosier, said Thursday that the staff would meet Friday “to talk through what today’s decision means to us.”

Baltimore City School CEO Sonja Santelises supports school testing, but said she believes the state school board made the right decision.

“I believe that standardized testing allows the public and the families to see the overall progress ... of schools and school districts, but this is a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic. There was just incredibly high anxiety,” she said. When she told a group of parents about the state board vote late Thursday, Santelises said, she could see visible relief on their faces.


The Maryland State Education Association, the union representing the majority of the state’s teachers, applauded the decision.

“Educators understand that what our students need right now isn’t mandated standardized testing, but instructional time, opportunities to learn and be with their classmates, and time to address their social-emotional well being,” MSEA President Cheryl Bost said in a statement.

The only dissenting vote on the board came from Rachel McCusker, a teacher, who said she believed that the local diagnostic tests now being given routinely by school systems were enough to identify where students stand even if they weren’t the same in each county.

“It would seem that the local assessments would give us some valuable information. I just wanted to put that out there that any idea of testing right now is unpalatable to our community,” McCusker said.

Bost said she hoped that Maryland would take advantage of other waivers that may be offered by the federal government for reductions in testing times.

Retired Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Warner I. Sumpter, a school board member, said he wanted to make sure that the issue of when to give tests was revisited in the summer.


“I don’t think it is harmful to take a look at our testing and how we do it in late summer when we have more data,” Sumpter said.

The board is in the process of hiring a new state superintendent to replace Salmon, who is retiring in June.

The board’s decision does not affect all standardized testing.

Some high school students may decide to take the standardized assessments given at the end of some courses, Salmon said. For example, the state’s required Algebra I test is usually taken after a student takes the class, not a year later.

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Every state is required by federal law to give annual tests, and schools are held accountable based on the results. In Maryland, the tests are used as part of a star rating system, begun several years ago, that grades every school on a variety of indicators, including how well students perform on tests.


The tests given in the fall will not be linked to those accountability standards, Salmon said.

The new Maryland test, known as the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, was going to be introduced last spring, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed those plans. MCAP is replacing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, which was last given in 2019.

Salmon said her shift in thinking came the day after the Feb. 23 board meeting, when she began to do a more careful reading of the recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. She said she realized that the federal department was offering states the opportunity to delay testing to the fall.

“So we found an alternative that I believe is going to be good,” she said. The diagnostic test given in the fall would “reduce the stress on students and teachers.”

The state will be required to submit a request to federal education officials to delay the testing.