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Maryland students will spend less time on standardized tests next year, following widespread criticism that kids’ classroom time was being sucked up by lengthy assessments.

Elementary and middle school students previously spent four hours being tested in math. The new exam has been trimmed to a little more than two-and-a-half hours, officials said at a state school board meeting Tuesday.

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Last year was the final time the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests were administered in Maryland schools. These exams were deeply unpopular and difficult: Less than half of Maryland students could pass.

One of the most common complaints was about how time-consuming it was to administer the test. PARCC season, state Superintendent Karen Salmon said, "became an event.”

“Everything shut down for testing,” she said. “Having a shorter period gives our schools more flexibility.”

School officials are hopeful the layout of the new test — dubbed the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, or MCAP — will assuage some of those concerns.

The revamped math tests will be broken into four units, each 40 minutes long, according to a presentation delivered to the State Board of Education. That means schools can choose to administer the exams in the space of a single class period, or stack the units back to back.

“I’m appreciative of the shorter time, particularly if it can be done in a class period,” Baltimore County Superintendent Darryl Williams said.

The English exams will be longer, though still pared back from the PARCC era.

In grades four through 10, students previously undertook six hours of English testing. Going forward, it’s scheduled to take a little more than four-and-a-half hours.

Each English unit will be 70 minutes — nearly twice as long as the math units.

State Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Judkins said students need that time to read passages, comprehend them and then complete writing prompts. For equity purposes, she said, it didn’t seem right to rush the students who may take longer to write.

“To do that in 40 minutes didn’t seem doable,” she said.

But the state education department plans to revisit that decision next year, after the first round of MCAP testing. Officials are keeping an open mind about trimming the English units down to an hour, Judkins said.

Board members pressed Judkins on how the state managed to compress the test, while still preserving the same performance measures.

She assured them: “All the skills are still there. We just don’t have as many items.”

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