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MSA test is not only mandatory but useful

We read with interest The Baltimore Sun's recent editorial calling for Maryland schools to skip testing every student in grades 3-8 this year because new assessments aligned to the curriculum will not be available until the 2014-2015 school year ("Md. should skip the MSA," Sept. 16). Like the Sun's editorial board, we wish everything in education could be perfect before a change is made, but unlike the Sun editors, we cannot afford to turn our backs on students while waiting for our assessments to catch up to the curriculum. An earlier Sun journalist, H.L. Mencken, might have put it best: "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong."

The Maryland School Assessment has considerable value to educators. While not completely aligned with the Common Core, the test allows us to focus individual student understanding and achievement on those questions that are aligned. It also provides a snap shot of achievement that is disaggregated by racial and student services subgroups. For example, if English as a second language students at School A are doing better than those particular students at School B, we'd like to know about it and understand why. So do educators at the school and system level.

As we give the MSA this spring, we've also committed to field-testing the new PARCC exams on a percentage of students in each school. Routine and regular assessment for all Maryland students in the tested grades has served our state well, and we prefer to continue that policy in this transition year. Those students not involved in the field test of the new exams will take the MSA.

Finally, as The Sun pointed out, annual assessment of all students, grades 3-8, is required by federal law. The U.S. Department of Education does not appear to have the legal authority to waive the testing requirement that Congress set into place as part of the most recent rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Moreover, federal officials have shown no interest in turning their back on that requirement.

Maryland's focus is on maintaining our educational progress, boosting reform and continuing our transition to a more rigorous curriculum designed to strengthen college and career readiness. Keeping the MSA test for one more year is not a perfect solution, but it is a sensible one. Skipping the MSA this spring for those students not part of the field test on the new assessments does not move our schools forward in any way.

Charlene Dukes and Lillian Lowery, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, president of the Maryland State Board of Education and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools.

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