Maryland’s standardized tests have not gotten a lot of love. Critics say they take too many hours and are disruptive in schools. More than half of students don’t pass. And results are slow to get to teachers, reducing their usefulness in the classroom.
Now, the tests are being scrapped.
Maryland students will see the last of the state’s PARCC exams — named for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career — during spring 2019. By that fall, PARCC will be replaced by new standardized tests.
Those exams will be called MCAPs — for Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program — and state officials say they will be based on the same high-level standards and rigorous curriculum.
“My hope is that we can have the same rigor and learn the same things about what students know using an assessment that takes less time to administer and is less disruptive to the instructional day,” said Justin Hartings, president of the Maryland State Board of Education.
The change marks an early demise for a test first given statewide in spring 2015 and aligned with Common Core standards that set a high bar for what students should learn in states across the country. It comes against a shifting national landscape, as Maryland joins other states looking for better options.
The number of states involved in PARCC — once more than 20 — has been on the decline for years. Experts cite multiple factors, including frustrations with the length of the exams, which became a lightning rod in the nation’s anti-testing fervor. Many states are moving toward doing their own test. The District continues to give the traditional PARCC test.
“In the midst of parent pushback on testing, you were rolling out these extensive new tests,” said Frederick Hess, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “In most states, they were hours longer than the last tests.”
In Maryland, while some may look forward to the end of PARCC, questions remain about the reasons for the switch, what comes next, and potential fallout.
Amanda Graver, a parent and longtime PTA leader and advocate on curriculum issues in Montgomery County, found the move surprising after just four years of testing, and she worries the move is driven by low scores. Just 34 percent of the state’s elementary and middle-school students passed the most recent PARCC tests in math; nearly 42 percent did in English language arts.
“Is it because we’re not doing well, and we want a test where we do better?” she asked. “Just because the scores were not stellar, it’s not a reason to get rid of the test.”
Graver said she considered PARCC valuable because results could be compared with those of other school systems and states, and said it pointed to areas where improvements are needed.
“We didn’t give our students and teachers a chance to catch up,” she said. “There was a learning curve.”
For some, the change can’t come soon enough.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been no fan of PARCC. Speaking to reporters last week, he described the tests as “doomed” and said he had already made it clear he never wanted “to see another one these PARCC exams ever.”
Two weeks earlier, he remarked that “nearly everyone in Maryland” wants to ditch PARCC and said he was glad to hear the replacement would “kind of start from scratch”and be Maryland-based. “The last thing we want is a PARCC-lite with a Maryland flag stuck on the front cover,” he said.
The state’s largest teachers union welcomed the move.
“Our educators know we can do better than PARCC,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association. “Whatever the next test is, educators believe it must be shorter, more useful and not so disruptive to teaching and learning.”
The tests involved eight to 9½ hours of testing, depending on a student’s grade level. Instructional hours were lost as schools scrambled to manage staffing issues and scheduling conflicts, educators said.
Bost said teachers would want assurance the new test is aligned with Common Core State Standards and that teachers will get results back in a timely manner, to help teachers better shape their instruction of students.
The test was the state’s first standardized exam in English and math designed to be administered on computers, and most students took it that way.
For the next standardized test, state officials say they want exams that will enable the progress of students to be compared with earlier years of PARCC results.
Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said the state is reviewing proposals from vendors who submitted bids to create a new test. The state plans to involve teachers in the development of test items. No cost figures have been released.
Hartings, the state board president, said Maryland is not looking for easier tests. “Absolutely not,” he said. “It has to be as rigorous, and the results have to be comparable between PARCC and the new assessment.”
Leaders of the Montgomery and Prince George’s county school systems declined to comment on the change this week.
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the teachers union in Prince George’s County, raised questions about the potential costs of new testing to the school system, which she said spent considerable money improving technology for PARCC. She also wondered about the comparability. “How can you compare one test to another when it’s a different test?”
“Everybody wants to keep making a whole lot of changes in public education, and it’s like a moving target,” Dudley said.
Cynthia Simonson, a vice president with Montgomery County’s countywide council of PTAs, said she does not want the message to be that students did not score well, prompting the rejection of PARCC tests.
On the other hand, she said, she does not see PARCC as the “be-all, end-all.” She said she thought PARCC was better than the test before it, and would like to see the successor test improve on PARCC.
With all tests, she said, the question is: “Are we getting enough out of it to stay with it?” She said some form of external testing is needed.
Others have suggested the state should eliminate all standardized testing, but the exams are a condition of receiving federal education funds.
PARCC was field tested for two years in Maryland, in 2013 and 2014, and rolled out statewide in 2015.
Montgomery County Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill recalled some of PARCC’s difficulties early on, including when some high school students in Montgomery snubbed the tests by not answering the questions.
She noted that Maryland’s previous assessments — called MSAs and MSPAPs — lasted longer, about a decade each, but were not forever either.
“Each one of the assessments had its own problems,” she said. “There seems to be a life cycle to assessments. They only have a limited life span.”
Erin Cox contributed to this report.