Md. school assessment tests inefficient and wasteful

Last month in Baltimore County, we administered the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment (MISA). The test is broken into four units, each of which takes 60 minutes to complete. I had 27 middle school students in my testing section.

Day 1: We spent close to an hour trying to get students logged on to the testing software. Ultimately, I tested six students on the first unit. The other 21 students sat quietly for 60 minutes, unable to test. Many read, some slept, most did a combination of the two.


Day 2: We didn’t really test. Due to the debacle of Day 1, we did test prep. This was not the type of test prep where kids think about questions and topics that might be on the test. This involved taking my students and their computers to the library for updates and fixes. But, after one period in the library, it was determined that the updates and fixes weren’t going to cut it. So, we scrapped that idea for regular classes.

Day 3: I needed my students to attempt to log in to the testing software. Those who couldn’t get in marched their devices to the library for updates and fixes. This was an all day, all classes affair, but once students returned from the library, class could commence.


Day 4: This should really be labeled as Day 1a because we retested the first unit. So, the six students who tested on actual Day 1 sat and read quietly while their peers completed unit 1. A bunch of computers didn’t work, but the six who had already tested swapped with kids who had not tested. Only five out of 27 hadn’t taken the 1st unit by day’s end. Once unit 1 ended, we moved on to unit 2, which was fine except now all the kids who had sacrificed their computers to kids whose device didn’t work needed them back; 11 of 27 didn’t finished the second unit.

Day 5: We have 17 of 27 students with devices able to access the testing materials. I’m not sure who is luckier: the students testing or the ones getting to read books.

This is only one test administration experience; take it with a grain of salt. Some are better, some are worse. But how seriously would you take this process? Now: Imagine you are 14. What would you think?

We spent a week wasting valuable class time that could have been spent on a range of things from social-emotional education to literacy efforts or content development.

Furthermore, I’ve only described the testing process for MISA. We could insert MAP or PARCC for similar results. Extrapolate that out for a year. We wouldn’t pay for our kids to take the SAT or AP exam if it were administered in such a haphazard and unreliable way. We shouldn’t accept it from our public school systems either.

This level of inefficiency in the current test administration strikes to the credibility of the assessments themselves. If students, teachers and the community don’t believe in the importance of the tests, the results start to reflect the antipathy toward testing instead of the learning students experienced throughout the year.

How do we fix this in Maryland?

First: Shorten the testing window. No multi-week opportunities. It will force students, teachers and school leaders at the county and state levels to be committed to creating a testing environment that is serious and efficient.


Second: Use paper tests. Computers may be the way of the future, but after watching online testing for several years, it is clear large-scale online testing is not a well-oiled machine.

Third: Require a random sampling of adults to take the same tests, under the same conditions as the kids. I won’t volunteer to proctor. No group of adults would endure the testing experience described above: no cellphones, no talking, no email, just testing — or not testing.

We constantly complain in public education that we do not have enough time for the many things we need to accomplish. A testing administration process like this is the epitome of waste. And what’s worse: You are paying for it.

Adam Sutton is a BCPS parent and teacher; he can be reached at