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State school board approves testing all Maryland students on math and English this spring

Maryland students — whether they learn in-person or online — will have to take statewide standardized tests this spring, but the results won’t carry any consequences for students or schools.

The state school board voted Tuesday to start using the new Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program in math and English, but will drop other tests in social studies and science from the schedule. The tests also can be administered later in the school year than usual.

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The new testing program was set to be introduced last spring but wasn’t given after schools went virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The board urged State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon to shorten the length of the testing time. The math test would take two hours and 40 minutes and the English test four hours and 40 minutes, the same as what the state education department planned for last year’s suspended exam, according to department documents.

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Salmon told the board the testing time already had been reduced.

The testing time for the new math and English tests is about a third less than the former test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, last used in 2019.

Rose Maria Li, a state school board member from Montgomery County, as well as other members, told Salmon the disruption caused by the testing could be minimized if it was shorter.

“There may be ways to reduce the math to 90 minutes and find ways to calibrate it so that you can have a shortened assessment that captures similar information,” Li said.

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Some school board members said they were concerned about the time needed for the English test, particularly because many students who go back to in-person classes will only be in school two days a week.

Salmon said she would consult with the department’s technical advisory committee for assessments to see if the tests could be shortened, but said she could not promise changes. Testing details are expected to be brought before board at its March meeting, shortly before the two-month testing window opens.

Schools would be able to give the standardized tests as late as the first week in June.

In a statement Monday evening, the U.S. Department of Education made clear that states must give the annual tests in reading and math, but encouraged them to ask for waivers to shorten the tests, delay them or make other accommodations.

Salmon supports continuing testing because she believes it can yield valuable information about how students have done during the pandemic and could provide some guidance to schools and the state about gaps in learning that individual students have because of the pandemic.

“We may find out some really interesting data on how students are doing. We may find out that students are doing well. I am going to remain optimistic that we will see some positive data as well,” Salmon said.

However, the testing issue has become controversial with school leaders.

Stacy A. Shack, Baltimore County’s director of assessment, speaking at the state school board meeting, said the testing would take precious time away from in-person instruction this spring just when teachers are trying to reestablish normal relationships with their students.

Teachers, and the unions representing them, have called for a hiatus in testing.

And the Anne Arundel County School Board wrote to Salmon and the state school board president Monday asking to delay testing, saying students are craving time with teachers and friends, and don’t want to spend hours taking tests.

“Our next steps should not include state testing that is inequitable, creates more lost instructional time, is a burden on our schools and, above all, provides data that will essentially be meaningless given that we will test only approximately one-third of our students,” the letter said.

Until Tuesday, many educators believed only students coming to in-person classes would be taking the tests.

However, Salmon told the school board that the social media rumors were false: Everyone would take the test. When a school board member asked what measures would be taken to make sure parents weren’t helping their children during the test, Salmon said they would have to trust that people were honest.

“We are going to have to assume that everyone is going to be on the straight and narrow,” Salmon said.

However, she said she would be working on additional security measures with the technical advisory board.

“Kids across the state have a lot to worry about already and this just adds to the burden,” said Joe Kane, president of the Baltimore City school system’s Parent Community Advisory Board. “This has been an opportunity to be creative in how we approach educating children. When are we going to say ‘No, this is not working for our school district?’ When are we going to push back and say ‘This is where we draw the line?’”

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