State education officials say new standardized tests last year saved the state more than $2.5 million, compared to previous state assessments.
The state Board of Education received an overview Tuesday of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, which was first used in Maryland during the 2014-2015 school year.
Statewide, 1.3 million tests were completed during the school year. More than 80 percent of students took the assessments online.
Critics say PARCC testing takes too long and dominates school schedules. But in a report to the board, state School Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said the tests — administered by the New York-based Pearson Education — set a "higher bar" for preparing students for higher education or a career than the pervious Maryland High School Assessments.
Officials said they would make changes in the assessments based on comments from teachers, students and parents. By "leveraging efficiencies," Lowery said, the state will reduce test times by an average of 90 minutes for each subject.
Union leaders said a reduction in test times would be welcome, but they remain concerned about the time spend on assessments.
"We're very pleased that the long-standing concerns of educators and parents about the amount of instructional time lost due to standardized testing are beginning to be addressed," Betsy Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said in a statement. "But there's more work to be done to smooth out implementation issues and restore time for our students to learn the skills they really need — like critical thinking and problem solving — rather than test taking and test prep."
Lowery called PARCC "the best assessment tool Maryland has ever had for determining how well students are learning and meeting state standards for college and career readiness."
Maryland is a member of a consortium of states implementing the PARCC testing. Lowery said two consortium members, Ohio and Arkansas, recently withdrew from the testing program. But she said Maryland still would benefit from "economies of scale" by staying a member of the group.
The state board approved a measure last month that gives school districts the option to offer PARCC tests to determine whether juniors meet college- and career-readiness standards. The optional tests include 11th-grade English, Algebra II, geometry and ninth-grade English. If districts do not want to use PARCC, they can instead use tests such as the SAT or ACT.
Also Tuesday, the board elected new leaders. Guffrie M. Smith Jr., a retired educator with more than 30 years in Calvert County Public Schools and six years with the Maryland State Department of Education, was elected president of the board. S. James Gates, a professor at the University of Maryland, was elected vice president.
They replace Dr. Charlene Dukes and Dr. Mary Kay Finan, whose terms as president and vice president had expired.
Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.