Carroll delegate introduces bill that would halt required pre-kindergarten testing

Maryland Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, has proposed a bill that would place a moratorium on implementing standardized state testing in pre-kindergarten.

Such testing is reportedly only in the pilot phase this year, and not in Carroll County, but Shoemaker, who represents Carroll, said he is concerned about the widespread use of state-mandated tests in schools.


House Bill 548 would prevent further administration of the Early Learning Assessment for pre-kindergarten students pending an audit of the pilot program of the test currently taking place in the 2017-2018 school year in some Maryland school districts.

"There is way too much testing going on, standardized testing. That's the impetus for this, to try and get a handle on this stuff," he said. "It's taking place in many parts of the state and I want to try to get ahead of that ball before it gets to Carroll County and address the impact in other places where they are doing."

While Shoemaker does not deny the benefits of some using of standardized testing "to measure where kids are at a particular place in time and what their skill levels are," he is concerned that teachers can end up spending too much time on tests instead of teaching. In 2016, Shoemaker introduced a bill allowing school districts to choose to give the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment to a small sampling of the kindergarten students in the district, rather than testing every student.

"That passed both houses and the governor signed it into law," he said. "But during that process, the Maryland State Department of Education basically assured us that they were not going to be testing pre-kindergarten kids and in the last few months in the interim since the last session ended I discovered, much to my chagrin, that they have been testing pre-kindergarten kids and it is causing a lot of issues."

The Early Learning Assessment is being piloted in Montgomery and Prince George's counties' pre-kindergarten programs, according to Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association, where she said the demands of the test are proving disruptive.

The teachers, she said, "were completely overwhelmed with the amount of data collection that is being required in the districts that are doing this as a pilot."

The Early Learning Assessment requires testing for, and the recording of, 70 different data points, according to Bost, some of which students may answer verbally and others that may require the use of video recording. Teachers have reported this is already extremely time-consuming, she said, even though the pilot only requires they conduct the test for three students — testing an entire class would be even more burdensome.

"Our pre-school teachers were just up in arms, the ones being required to do this," Bost said. "This is not a required grade — pre-kindergarten in the state of Maryland right now is mostly for students who are behind, so they are already doing a lot of diagnostic work with these students to get them to where they need to be."

It is the understanding of the Maryland State Education Association, Bost said, that the Early Language Assessment will be made mandatory for all pre-kindergarten students, in all districts, in the 2017-2018 school year.

"That's why this bill is so important because the moratorium being called for in the bill slows it down and says, 'Let's look at this,'" Bost said. "You do not need a test and evidence for all students to be reported. That's why we go to college, to be able to look at students' work and how they are doing to adapt our program to them daily."

That claim, that the Early Learning Assessment is a test the state will mandate for all pre-kindergarten students in the 2017-2018 school year, could not be verified on Friday with the state Department of Education. On Friday afternoon, department spokesman William Reinhard said the Early Learning Assessment was only a test given to students as they entered kindergarten.

"We don't have any other assessment for early childhood," he said in an interview Friday afternoon. "There is no state test for pre-K."

However, Reinhard could not be reached for comment after 5:30 p.m. to respond to Bost's comments about the pilot program, and, in his interview that took place before Bost's, had been speaking only to the question of what programs were currently in place at the Department of Education.

A Department of Education website describing the state's Ready for Kindergarten program describes the Early Learning Assessment as being one of two components of Maryland's Comprehensive Early Childhood Assessment System, the other being the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. The site further describes the Early Learning Assessment as a "formative assessment" measuring the learning progress of children in mathematics, language and motor development, among other subjects.


In Carroll County Public Schools, pre-kindergarten students already receive a formative assessment of this type, according to Ann Marie Blonkowski, elementary supervisor in early childhood with the school system. Created locally by math and reading specialists with the school system, the assessments are given twice a year, over a two- to four-week period, she said.

"They also measure not just the child's growth, but give the teacher those next teaching points and what he or she can do next," Blonkowski said. "It mirrors the way we instruct, so it's not like it's a totally different environment and scary — the kids actually love it because they get to sit with our teacher one-to-one and interact."

Shoemaker's bill would not affect the locally created assessments given in Carroll County pre-kindergarten classes right now, he said. For that matter, he would not be opposed to a school system opting in to some form of standardized pre-kindergarten testing with the state — he is simply opposed to it being a requirement.

"I subscribe to the theory that the locals ought to have virtual autonomy in designing curriculum and testing and all that sort of thing. If that's what they want to do at the local level, that's fine," Shoemaker said.

"I am not trying to second-guess the locals, but what I am trying to address [are] some of the top-down mandates we are doing from both the state and federal government with respect to standardized testing."