Montgomery County school leaders asked state officials Wednesday for a two-year delay in requiring that Maryland high school students pass new standardized tests in order to graduate.
The new tests, based on the national Common Core State Standards, are viewed as a more rigorous replacement for the High School Assessments, or HSAs, which Maryland has used since 2005 to test learning in Algebra 1, English 10, biology and government.
Montgomery has supported the new state tests — developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — but district officials have voiced concern about how the results will be used as Maryland transitions to them.
Students in Maryland will take the PARCC tests for the first time this year across grades three to eight, and in Algebra 1 and English 10, courses linked to a high school graduation requirement.
“We think there are lots of practical issues we should be looking at before we make these tests count, so to speak, for our students,” Montgomery County Board of Education President Phil Kauffman said Wednesday, shortly after the county released a letter he sent to the state on the board’s behalf.
“Time is of the essence; this is a real issue that will impact the real lives of students,” Kauffman wrote in the letter.
Maryland education officials emphasized that passing the new state tests is not a graduation requirement for this year’s juniors or seniors, who must still show that they have passed the HSAs or completed a project-based assessment known as a bridge plan.
“It is not an imminent issue,” said state Education Department spokesman Bill Reinhard.
Maryland State Superintendent Lillian Lowery has heard from other school districts on the issue and discussed it last week at a meeting of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, Reinhard said. Lowery plans to make a recommendation on the issue to the Maryland State Board of Education in coming months.
Kauffman said Wednesday that Lowery indicated the state would have two scoring levels: one to meet the graduation requirement and another to show college and career readiness.
“I think it will be very confusing,” Kauffman said. “It sends a confusing message that you scored high enough to graduate, but we still don’t consider you college-ready.”
In his letter, Kauffman also asked why the state would delay the use of results from the new tests in evaluating school personnel but not see it as “equally appropriate to delay the use as a high stakes test for students.”
The new state exams were field-tested last school year, but Kauffman said the rollout of such tests can be bumpy, noting that teachers are continuing to adjust to the new curriculum and that logistical issues also may arise. The new tests have been developed as online exams, though paper versions will be available for several years, state officials said.
There also might be issues regarding the test questions themselves, Kauffman said, recalling that when the HSAs began, there was a trial period of several years when the tests did not count. He said educators need time to address “the kinks that are going to have to be worked out.”
Montgomery does not object to giving the tests, Kauffman said, but does have concerns about making them so quickly required for graduation. “We think that we should be implementing it a little more slowly,” he said.
Similar concerns have surfaced in other states that are beginning to implement Common Core-based exams, and Kauffman’s letter noted that some states have “already grappled with the implications of attaching high stakes to these exams.” Massachusetts deferred the use of the exams as a graduation requirement for several years, Kauffman wrote, taking a wait-and-see approach so that students would not be adversely affected by a test that is new to students and teachers.