Carroll's teacher of the year speaks out on school testing
By Staff and wire reports
Feb 18, 2016 | 7:54 PM
Carroll County's Teacher of the Year was among educators and lawmakers from both parties who spoke at a press conference held by the state's largest teachers' union Thursday to support legislative initiatives seeking to reduce testing for public school students in Maryland.
"I think that testing has a place in the public schools and I don't think that anyone is suggesting that testing go away completely but I think it has snowballed pretty much out of control because we've gotten to where the tests are so high stakes we spend a significant amount of time in classrooms working on test prep, tailoring the way that we teach to the style of the test," said Rachel McCusker, a music teacher at Piney Ridge Elementary School, during an interview Thursday afternoon.
"There are a lot of places in the state and across the nation where the push to focus on whatever subjects are involved in high-stakes testing have begun to erode away at other experiences that students have," she said.
McCusker said the amount of testing in schools at the national, state and local level is overwhelming students.
"I can't tell you how many kids are stressed out and they're worried about coming to school," McCusker said. "Our job is to get them engaged in learning so that they want to learn and they want to grow."
One of the measures, sponsored by Del. Eric Leudtke, D-District 14, would limit the amount of time that could be devoted to federal, state and locally mandated tests for each grade to 2 percent of a school year's instruction time.
"It's no secret that we have a real problem in this state, much like the rest of the country, with overtesting our kids in school," said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, adding that too much standardized testing has become a main concern for Maryland voters when it comes to K through 12 education.
A separate bill, sponsored by Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, would change the statewide kindergarten assessment now administered to measure school readiness to be limited to a random sample of kindergarten students from within each local school system. It also would prevent standardized tests from being administered to prekindergarten students.
Maryland kindergartners are required to take the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment that was rolled out last year to align with the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards. There is no testing requirement for pre-K students, and the state does not have future plans to test pre-K students, said Maryland State Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard.
"I think it's very vital, especially to these kids at such a young age when they have so much to gain with every minute that they have in the classroom in learning," said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford County, who serves as Senate minority leader.
Another measure sponsored by Del. Eric Ebersole, D-District 12, would end the state's ability to mandate that districts include PARCC,or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, scores in teacher and principal evaluations.
"You think testing is too much of a focus for schools now? Just wait until schools have to tell the teachers that their PARCC scores are the basis for whether they get a positive evaluation," said Ebersole, a Howard County teacher whose district includes parts of Howard and Baltimore counties.
McCusker said she has seen momentum building in support of testing reform.
"We're now at the point where teachers and parents and students are saying, 'This is enough – it's too much now,' " McCusker said.