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Teachers spar with Maryland Department of Education over MSAs

While state teachers said Maryland State Assessments are no longer aligned with what students are learning under new Common Core standards, the state Department of Education on Wednesday argued for the tests to be administered as scheduled this spring.

Both sides' arguments came as the House Ways and Means Committee heard House Bill 117. The bill, led in the House by Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, would require the state to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to be excused from administering the MSA test.

If state education officials do not receive a waiver or a response, the bill requires state officials to forgo the tests unless they find the penalty linked to canceling the exams is greater than the savings or benefits.

Dr. Jack Smith, the state's chief academic officer, said there is still "value" in administering the tests. Smith also argued that if the state chose not to go forward with administering the MSAs next month, the penalty from the federal government in withheld grant money could be more than $100 million.

But Luedtke, a teacher, told the committee that MSAs are "completely mismatched" with what students are learning in Maryland now under new federal required Common Core standards. He said administering the tests this year would be a waste of time, money and valuable lessons.

Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of the Maryland State Education Association, agreed. Johnson called Luedtke's legislation "common sense."

The MSA tests are designed to measure how well schools are doing in meeting state and federal goals. It costs the state at least $6 million to administer the tests.

Next year, the plan is to replace the MSAs with tests that align with the Common Core. But Luedtke's legislation could mean the MSAs will be gone before then.

Last year, Anne Arundel County school officials blamed a drop in math and reading scores on the MSAs in elementary schools on a "misalignment" between the exams and the new federal Common Core standards. The standards change what is taught and how it's taught.

Frustrated parents, overwhelmed teachers from the county sounded off on the standards at a Anne Arundel delegation hearing last month.

As for the test, lawmakers expressed concern on Wednesday that the time spent on MSAs in state schools could be better used.

When it was said the loss could be up to 10 days for students, Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George's, expressed shock.

"That is huge in the academic calendar," Walker said.

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