Any test-weary public school student would welcome taking one less standardized exam. Maryland education officials have made that a possibility this year by giving local districts the option of whether to administer the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.
But student empathy played no role in the decision. The governor's office, in light of the budget crisis, asked the state Education Department to cut its $88 million budget by about 5 percent.
In addition, this is the final year of the CTBS test because of changes brought about by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Taken together, Maryland officials decided they could save money -- about $600,000 -- without disrupting their testing program. The state will pay the costs of giving the test to second-graders but not to fourth- and sixth-graders.
"This reduction was one of the easier decisions to make, because it wouldn't reduce services to students and it simply terminated a year earlier a program that was going to end anyway," said Ron Peiffer, the state Education Department spokesman.
The Maryland School Assessment, a test that fits with new federal requirements, will debut this spring for third-, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders. Next year, the test will be given in those same grades, plus to fourth- and sixth-grade students.
Still, some Washington area school districts have decided on one last testing hurrah: They will give CTBS in March and pay for it themselves.
Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast received approval from the school board to spend $20,000 to give the test in fourth and sixth grades.
Weast believes the test "will provide us with additional important data on individual students' progress," said spokesman Brian J. Porter.
Calvert County plans to give the test only to second-graders, officials said. Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel public schools won't change from last year.
Prince George's students had taken the CTBS pre-test this fall in reading and math. Those results helped teachers make instructional plans, said spokeswoman Athena Ware. The district will spend $246,000 for booklets, scoring and computerized data broken out by subgroups.
The test is used to "measure and monitor academic achievement in the elementary grades and to determine eligibility for mandatory summer school," Ware said.
Charles County also used the CTBS test for summer school eligibility, but the school board voted this week to scrap the test this year, in favor of a new county-prepared exam at the end of the school year.
CTBS is a national multiple-choice exam that measures ability in reading, math and other subjects. Many local educators said they found the test useful because it produced individual student scores -- at a time when the former Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, ranked schools and not students.
But while MSPAP scores determined which schools received bonus money and which faced possible state takeover, CTBS scores were never part of the state's accountability system.
Overall, the state Education Department slashed $4.3 million from its current budget through a variety of cuts, including eliminating vacant positions in the correctional education program.