MSA testing should be bypassed if it has no relevance [Editorial]

The usefulness of student assessment testing as a gauge of school progress has been debated for years. The argument in favor is that the tests are a tool to evaluate schools and teachers because the tests are tailored to what is being taught in the classroom — the curriculum.

But what if the tests do not match the curriculum? The fundamental purpose of the tests would then be gone — test questions would not correspond to class lessons. Would it serve any purpose to give the test anyway?

State officials, in plans to be considered by the Maryland State Board of Education this month, say yes, the Maryland Student Assessments test should still be given. Not only that, but the state will spend $6 million to administer the tests.

At the heart of the problem is a transition from old to new. A previous curriculum is being phased out, to be replaced with the new Common Core curriculum. But a test tailored to the new curriculum will not be in use until the 2014-15 school year.

Many in Maryland education, especially teachers' unions, are scratching their heads over the state's decision to administer a test whose results will measure little or nothing.

"It doesn't make sense to give a test that you know is not aligned to what you are teaching because that is just a waste of everyone's time and, frankly, money," Donna Harris-Aikens, the National Education Association's director for education practice and policy, told the Sun.

State officials say the MSA is necessary because the tests are required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. But the federal Department of Education routinely grants waivers of NCLB provisions and other states have taken advantage.

California, for example, has decided not to test at all, and other states are expected to follow its lead, while some states have created interim tests to bridge the gap between old and new curriculum.

The Maryland State Education Association and the superintendents association in Maryland are calling for a one-year moratorium on MSA testing. Others are suggesting substitute tests that would satisfy the federal requirement while also yielding useful information about classroom progress.

We think state education officials should reconsider their position on testing during the curriculum transition. Maybe this is a year for a breather — add some classroom lessons whose purpose is not explicitly test-oriented. Maybe a little more, dare we say it, for more math or reading is in order. In any case, a better use can almost certainly be found for the time, effort and money needed to administer the MSA tests.

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