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Budget amendment to create PARCC opt out plan

Budget amendment to create PARCC opt out plan

Two Carroll legislators have championed an amendment to the state budget that would prevent funding to the PARCC assessments unless parents can opt out of testing for their children.

Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, and Del. David Vogt, R-District 4, announced Wednesday the introduction of the amendment that seeks to halt funding to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, which is new this year, unless the Maryland State Department of Education creates a plan to allow parents to opt out of the standardized testing.

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The assessment replaces the Maryland School Assessment in reading and math in grades three through eight, as well as the High School Assessments in Algebra I and 10th grade English.

The PARCC test is aligned to the Maryland College and Career-Ready standards and was developed from the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. Legislation instituting the assessment was passed by the General Assembly in 2012. It has been unpopular among some parents and teachers across the state, who say the test takes too much time away from instruction.

Currently there is no state law to opt out of state testing, said William Reinhard, spokesman for MSDE.

A memorandum of understanding related to PARCC testing issued in the General Assembly in 2010 included a clause that allows the newly elected governor the power to either recommit to the tests or do away with them, according to Vogt.

He proposed a budget amendment nearly two weeks ago that would have eliminated PARCC testing entirely and replaced it with a temporary test while the assembly and governor determined if a Maryland-developed test would be more appropriate than a test developed from national standards.

"That didn't carry; I didn't expect it to carry," Vogt said.

He said discussion of this issue needed to be forced due to the severity and importance of the subject.

"[PARCC testing] is probably second only to taxes as far as what a lot of people are concerned about across the state right now," Vogt said. "That was the point of my amendment: to get the conversation to a higher level, and it's done just that."

After the amendment failed in the House, he and Ready chose to alter the amendment to make it more palatable and will be introducing it on the floor of the Senate today.

Rather than eliminating PARCC testing, the amendment will require MSDE to devise a plan by which parents may opt their children out of testing and to present the plan to the Senate Sept. 15. It will then be reviewed by the legislature for 45 days before putting it into action. If MSDE fails to come up with a plan, the $34 million that has been appropriated for administering PARCC testing will revert back to the general education fund.

"Are we really going to tell the parents they cannot opt their children out of a test that is not about their grade level and not really a funding determinant?" Ready said.

He said the amendment is narrowly tailored to promote discussion that isn't colored by party lines.

"It's not as broad as saying we are going to get rid of it," Ready said. "To be honest, I'd be fine with that, but I'm trying to hone in on and focus on giving parents that choice."

Carroll Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, who also serves as the executive officer of the county school board, said he could not weigh-in on the amendment because the school board has not taken an official position on an opt out of PARCC.

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"We have stated publicly that we believe that instructional education issues should be handled by the State Board of Education, not the General Assembly, and changes should be made through the [Code of Maryland Regulation], not the [Maryland Annotated Code]," Guthrie said.

Reinhard declined to comment on the measure, saying the State Board of Education has not taken a stance on any bill this legislative session.

Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat who represents Baltimore and Howard counties in District 12, was the primary sponsor of legislation that will establish a commission to evaluate state assessments, along with Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Democrat representing District 22 in Prince George's County.

Although Ebersole, a Howard County high school math teacher, supports reducing testing in schools, he said the budget amendment is premature.

"The budget is not a good place to pass education policy," Ebersole said. "The budget is place where you decide how much money you need to enact education policy that's already in place."

Ebersole said his bill, which creates a commission to examine public school testing, is likely to consider an option for parents to opt out of PARCC testing.

"There is some federal money that is tied to the testing that is done," he said. "Before we decide the amount of testing we're going to do we have to look at what the impact might be in terms of the kind of aid we're going to get from the federal government."

Ready said Ebersole's legislation is part of a larger discussion taking place in the governor's administration and the General Assembly concerning all testing in the state, not just PARCC.

"Teachers don't have the right amount of classroom time with their kids, parents are not happy about all the tests their children have to take, and I don't think the students particularly like it either," he said.

Shareese Churchill, press secretary for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the governor is committed to taking a close look at testing practices in order to improve the education system for all students in the state.

"The governor has expressed serious concerns about 'one-size fits-all' standards like PARCC and will be exploring ways to improve or remove them during his term," she said.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

Reach staff writer Lauren Loricchio at 410-857-7862 or email lauren.loricchio@carrollcountytimes.com.

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