Montgomery school board backs bills to skip standardized tests set for spring in Maryland

Montgomery County school leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to support efforts to get the Maryland School Assessments (MSAs) scrapped for this spring, a move that came on the heels of two new bills proposed by state lawmakers from Montgomery County.

In Montgomery, more than 50,000 students in grades three to eight are expected to take MSAs beginning in March. The standardized exams go back a decade and are used as a marker of school performance.

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But critics contend the tests lack meaning — and take away time from classroom instruction — because they do not reflect the Common Core standards being taught in many schools. In recent weeks, Montgomery PTA leaders have stepped up to urge that the tests be canceled, and a county teacher has launched an online petition.

State Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) introduced an emergency bill Monday that asks the Maryland State Department of Education to seek a waiver from federal testing requirements so that the spring testing cycle could be skipped.

If state education officials do not receive a waiver or a response, the bill, SB 165, requires state officials to forgo the tests unless they find that the penalty linked to canceling the exams is greater than the savings or benefits.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Patricia O’Neill, vice president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, voiced strong support for King’s measure and a companion bill from Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery). O’Neill suggested that the district weigh in with key state officials, including Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery.

Lowery has vigorously supported the MSAs and contends that the tests remain useful for professional development and other purposes, in spite of misalignment. Next year, the MSAs will be replaced by tests that align with the Common Core.

“We’re being very thoughtful, very deliberate,” Lowery said in a December interview.

In Montgomery, several school leaders spoke out Tuesday against administering the tests, noting the MSA testing period has historically consumed great time and energy in the county’s schools. Montgomery is Maryland’s largest school district.

“To just do testing for testing sake, when they are not in alignment . . . is just foolish,” said Board Member Christopher S. Barclay.

Board Member Michael A. Durso said giving such tests sends mixed messages to the district’s students at a time when Montgomery is grappling with issues raised by another set of standardized tests: high school final exams, which Montgomery students have failed at high rates.

“By any stretch of the imagination, it makes very little sense,” Durso said.

Luedtke, who is a social studies teacher, last week introduced House Bill 117, which includes the same provisions as the Senate bill. He said Monday that he expects the legislation will be addressed in committee within a few weeks.

“There’s a complete disconnect,” he said in an earlier interview. “Why would we give a test on something kids are not being taught? It defies logic.”

 
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