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Educators: Maryland must lift mandated standardized testing requirement for next year | READER COMMENTARY

In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pauses as she testifies during a hearing of a House Appropriations Sub-Committee on the fiscal year 2021 budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. In March, she agreed to allow states to suspend standardized testing this year.
In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pauses as she testifies during a hearing of a House Appropriations Sub-Committee on the fiscal year 2021 budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. In March, she agreed to allow states to suspend standardized testing this year. (Alex Brandon/AP)

On March 20, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that states could apply for waivers allowing students impacted by school closures to be exempt from federal testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year. After Secretary DeVos’ announcement, Maryland’s State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon applied and received a waiver from the federal government. Thus far, this is prudent and responsible decision making.

But it is important for Maryland families and educators to understand that federal and state testing mandates are different. The federal government requires states to administer tests for math, science and English. The federal waiver exempts states from administering these tests.

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However, Maryland has testing mandates of its own (“Maryland schools to remain closed for the rest of academic year due to coronavirus pandemic,” May 6). In particular, and separate from the federal government, Maryland requires students to pass tests in math, English and social studies in order to graduate. High school seniors needing to pass tests in any of these areas have been given a pass by the Maryland State Department of Education for 2020.

Yet many students who are enrolled in Algebra I, English 10, or Government still need to pass the exams to be eligible for graduation. For example, if your child is currently enrolled in 10th grade English, they will have to pass that exam before their scheduled graduation in 2022.

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The public must understand that students are going to have to pass tests related to coursework that they have not completed. Not to mention the fact that the next routine testing date is in January of 2021. A student sitting to test for the first time in January of 2021 will be testing nearly a year after last attending the corresponding course.

Moreover, while MSDE has directed local jurisdictions to prioritize and focus their lessons, the tests will cover the full array of material. For students, this is a double whammy. The online learning they are being given represents a reduction in standards directed by the state, but the state is telling students and families that they must pass tests with all the standards. Students are being set up to fail.

While the consequences of this commitment to testing will fall most dramatically on students, school-based staff are going to feel this too. As a consequence of focused and prioritized instruction this spring and a test delayed into next year, more students will fail the state mandated exams. The elevated failure rate will force school-based staff to spend more time guiding students through meaningless alternative pathways to graduation instead of planning and implementing robust and meaningful instruction.

And it continues because the ramifications of increased failing test scores are going to hit already marginalized groups: students with disabilities, students lacking access to technological resources, students with unstable home lives, etc. Kids who are already behind and facing an uphill struggle to graduation are going to face a steeper pathway.

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What needs to be done?

On May 27, the Maryland State Board of Education will meet. At this meeting, the board should excuse all students impacted by the COVID-19 closures from the requirement to pass tests to graduate. There is no way for school systems to remediate and remake the lost learning opportunities. Holding students accountable for learning they have missed through no fault of their own is inexcusable.

This fall is not going to be schooling as normal. Schools across the state and country are going to be adapting to and overcoming challenges which we still cannot fully envision. Thus, it is imperative that the state school board act swiftly and clearly to reduce the stress and difficulty of next school year. A failure to act will tax local school resources, hinder teachers from doing their jobs, but, most important, harm Maryland students and families.

Adam Sutton and Adam Laye

The writers are Baltimore County Public Schools’ social studies chairs. The letter was signed by 39 additional Maryland educators in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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