Maryland wants to continue annual assessments of students this year at a cost of about $6 million, even though the scores wouldn't be used to gauge school progress — one of the main reasons for giving the tests.

State officials, in plans to be considered by the Maryland State Board of Education this month, said they would continue to give the Maryland School Assessments to comply with federal law. But, they said, the results won't provide reliable data for evaluating schools and teachers because the tests are geared to curriculum that's being phased out.


The new common core curriculum, launched this year in every public school in the state, won't have new assessments to match until the 2014-2015 school year. The state must field test the new assessments next year, and officials say they have chosen to do so on 50,000 students across the state — a small group of students in every elementary and middle school.

A Maryland teachers union is calling for a one-year moratorium on testing. And the National Education Association, another teachers union, said the focus during this year of transition should be on making sure teachers are prepared and getting enough support to teach the new curriculum rather than on testing.

"It doesn't make sense to give a test that you know is not aligned to what you are teaching because that is just a waste of everyone's time and, frankly, money," said Donna Harris-Aikens, the NEA's director for education practice and policy.

State officials say they must go forward with the MSA, given in math and reading to third- through eighth-graders, because annual state tests are required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Until Congress reauthorizes the law, said Jack Smith, the chief academic officer of the Maryland State Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education has little choice but to enforce the provision.

"There will be some benefits that can be derived from the test," Smith said, though he acknowledged: "It is not a perfect situation or a particularly good situation to administer the MSA during this transition."

The timing issues have arisen as states struggle to put in place several reforms, including the common core, the new assessments and a new teacher evaluation system based on the new tests. Many states agreed to an aggressive timetable because they were trying to win federal dollars under an education reform competition called Race to the Top.

If given the go-ahead by the state board, Maryland officials would ask the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from some requirements under No Child Left Behind. First, state officials are asking for permission to forego giving the old Maryland State Assessment to the students who are taking the new test. Without the waiver, those students would have to take tests in March.

And because some students would be taking the news tests, state officials said they would have only partial data on student achievement in each school, so it would be unfair to use the test results to rank schools. Officials propose keeping in place the current rankings, called the School Progress Index, until schools can be evaluated under the new system.

Maryland also is seeking to delay tying a teacher's evaluation to test scores until next school year. Under a new system, as much as 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be tied to how much a student learns during a year.

Because the old tests are not measuring what is being taught, test scores are expected to go down next year — as they did this year.

So if the old tests aren't a good measure of student achievement and shouldn't be used to evaluate schools and teachers, some education leaders wonder why the old tests should be given.

California has decided to not test at all; other states have created interim tests.

"I would like to see states step up and say, "Wait a minute, is this really the right thing to do? Is it good to spend money on tests that aren't aligned and aren't going to give us the information we need?" said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association. "We remain opposed to giving the MSA next year."

Both the union, which represents most teachers in Maryland, and the superintendents association have come out in favor of a one-year moratorium on testing.


"This transition and lack of reliable testing data from the state has created great concerns for local superintendents who are trying to maintain and convey confidence in the quality of education that Maryland students are receiving," said Michael J. Martirano, superintendent of St. Mary's County Public Schools, and president of the Public School Superintendents' Association of Maryland.

But Smith, at the state department of education, said he believes MSA testing could still be useful in illuminating potential problems in teaching certain groups of students, including special education students or those for whom English is not their first language.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Education also contend the MSAs would continue to yield valuable information.

"History shows that when we don't [give the tests] it's the performance of the most vulnerable students that gets swept under the rug," said Cameron French, deputy press secretary for the federal department. "Although it's not ideal to use the old test when you are transitioning to new standards, we do believe the data provides some use to parents, policy makers, teachers and educators where there are access issues and chronic low performance."

Several educators, including Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance, said they would like to see more students take the new field test of the PARCC and that other tests routinely given by school systems during the year could be substituted to satisfy the federal requirement.

Dance said the misalignment between the new curriculum and the old tests is particularly difficult in math. Concepts that are tested in one grade on the MSA may now be taught in a different grade under the common core.

He will push to have more county students take the new test, but he also said the county does not have enough computers to give the test online to every student in elementary and middle school. The MSA is a paper and pencil test, but the state will eventually move all testing online.

Many states, caught in the same transition, are continuing to give the old tests, but New York and some other states have paid to create a new test to be given in the interim.

California's legislature voted last week to stop giving its state test for at least one year until a new curriculum and tests are in place. Gov. Jerry Brown has said he supports the legislation, which passed despite U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's warning that he could take away federal funds from California. Federal funds represent about 10 percent of school budgets there.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test, an organization that is opposed to the extent of testing in public schools, said that children will not benefit from taking the MSA.

State officials "should stand up to Washington and say enough is enough," he said. "Lurching from one set of tests to another is going to make things worse and be disruptive in the short run."


Tribune Newspapers contributed to this story.

Because of incorrect information provided by state education officials, an earlier version of this article gave the wrong cost to administer the MSAs. The Sun regrets the error.