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Standardized tests are a go, but Maryland scales them back amid pandemic

April 20, 2021

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Even as the pandemic has upended so much of school life, one rite of spring will go on as before in Maryland: standardized testing.

But this year, the exams will be shorter and limited to math and English, under a plan adopted this week by the Maryland State Board of Education.
State officials said students in third grade to eighth grade and high school will be tested, whether they are learning in person or virtually.
The exams they take — called MCAP tests, for Maryland Comprehensive Testing Program — are new assessments, but they will not affect student grades or graduation requirements, or be used for school accountability purposes.
“It is important that we provide teachers and families a reliable way of understanding how students are progressing on their grade-level standards,” said Karen B. Salmon, state superintendent of schools.
State officials cut the length of the test by two-thirds, but math testing will still take 2.6 hours and English language arts 4.6 hours. The testing period will extend until June.
Salmon said the state is still working on details related to taking the test remotely. Students in Maryland have taken computer-based tests for years, but at their schools. Last spring’s tests were canceled.
State board members voted to request that state officials make a concerted effort to further scale back testing.
Rose Maria Li, a member from Montgomery County, urged the state to explore whether it is possible to test on the same content with fewer questions, in less time.
“There may be ways, for example, to reduce the math to, say, 90 minutes instead of 2.6 hours and find ways to calibrate it so that . . . it actually captured similar information.”
Other board members expressed similar concerns.
“I just worry about children and teachers and classroom management, and glitches that are ongoing with all of the technology that children have,” said Joan Mele-McCarthy, from Calvert County.
State officials said that teachers will get results on machine-scored tests within 48 hours and that hand-scored items will be updated in real time. In fall 2021, scaled scores and levels will be released.
Teachers have complained in the past that standardized test results are often so delayed that they are no longer useful in helping to guide instruction.
Federal officials said this week that they are not forgoing requirements for standardized exams for the tumultuous 2020-2021 school year but said they would offer greater flexiblility about how the tests are given.
Many educators had hoped for full waivers, as happened last year, when the tests converged with the early months of the pandemic.
School system officials and advocates had testified earlier during Tuesday’s state board meeting.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said that in such a stressful year for students, they need time to reconnect with educators and classmates at school, not spend hours on tests they have never seen before. “They need instructional time, not testing,” she said.
Jack Smith, schools superintendent in Montgomery County, the state’s largest system, said that while a waiver of all state standardized testing would be best, “if the assessments are to be given, they should be considerably reduced in length and in the time it takes to administer them.”
In an interview Wednesday, Cynthia Simonson, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said she anticipated parents would question whether state officials at least tried to get a waiver for all standardized testing and whether each school will need a certain percentage of students to take the tests.
“Some might refuse to participate, especially if they are participating remotely,” she said.


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