Maryland students must take statewide standardized tests this spring that can take up more than seven hours.
The Maryland State Board of Education voted Tuesday to administer the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP), a new statewide assessment that is shorter than previous statewide tests.
All students in 3rd through 8th grades and high school will be tested on math and English this spring. Social studies, science and government tests were cut out this year in an effort to reduce testing time. No student can opt out of statewide assessments, State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon said.
The math test is two hours and 40 minutes and the English test is four hours and 40 minutes. Teachers can administer sections of the test over the span of days, to preserve time for instructional learning every day, said Jennifer Judkins, assistant state superintendent. Testing can take place as late as the first week of June.
MCAP was supposed to be implemented last year, but it was delayed because of the pandemic. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) was the statewide assessment used before.
Testing scores will not be a part of graduation requirements or determine advanced class placements. They will have no consequences for school systems and will be used simply to measure what is and is not working for students, Salmon said.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires K-12 public schools to give annual tests to students in 3rd through 8th grades, and once in high school, in reading and math as a way to identify learning gaps and measure effectiveness of instruction. Schools must also test students in science once in grade school, middle school and high school.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education said that states must administer annual standardized tests this year, but gave states flexibility — they can shorten the exam, deliver them remotely and lengthen the window in which students can sit for the exam. Regular standardized testing was canceled last school year when the pandemic unexpectedly shuttered school buildings across the nation.
There is currently no consistent data across local school systems that can help inform the extent of learning loss from the pandemic, Salmon said. She believed that a statewide assessment would give parents and teachers a reliable understanding on how students have been doing during the pandemic and could even show positive results.
“In order for us to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, we must first understand the extend of learning loss that has impacted our students across the state. That cannot happen without assessment data,” Salmon said.
“I’m going to remain optimistic that we’ll see some positive data as well,” she later said.
Board member Shawn Bartley also concurred. “Testing will show how effective our teachers have been online and what we can do to support our teachers at home, God forbid, [if] they’re restricted at home teaching online [again],” Bartley said. “I think this is a fair assessment tool to do it. It’s not the best scenario.”
Board member Warner Sumpter said he was concerned that standardized testing might take up too much of the precious learning time that students have already lost from the pandemic.
Educators echoed this concern. “Any in-person time that students have with their instructors is valuable instructional time that should not be lost to a new assessment in the state of Maryland,” Cheryl Bost, the president of Maryland State Education Association, said in an interview with Maryland Matters. “We’ve never seen [MCAP] and students have never worked on a computer with this test.”
But since the federal government is not allowing full testing waivers this year, Bost requested that MSDE further decrease testing time, not use instructional time for test prep and not pull teachers away from instruction to be test administrators.
Several board members also pushed Salmon to further reduce the testing time.
“There may be ways to reduce the math to 90 minutes instead of 2.6 hours and find ways to calibrate it so you can actually have a reduced or shortened assessment that actually captures similar information,” board member Rose Maria Li said.
But Salmon said that the department had already curtailed the testing time by two-thirds compared to state assessments given in 2019 and cannot guarantee that the department can reduce it any more.
“I just encourage that you keep pushing because if you don’t push, nothing will happen but I think people can be more innovative and creative if they’re required to be,” Li said.
It still remains unclear how students learning remotely will take the test, especially from a digital equity standpoint. Salmon said the department will do a lot of “pre work” to prevent technology issues, but did not have specifics about test administration.
When Bartley mentioned his concern about parents who may help their children to score high, Salmon said, “we are going to have to assume that everyone is going to be on the straight and narrow.”
The 13-member board voted to approve Salmon’s recommendation for the revised spring testing, with Rachel McCusker, a teacher member of the board, voting no and Lori Morrow, the parent representative to the board, abstaining. Li’s motion for MSDE to make a concerted effort to reduce the amount of testing time was also approved.
This was the first time in a year that the state school board met at least partially in person. Three board members and Salmon met in the MSDE building in Baltimore City while livestreaming with the rest of the members.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction if we’re asking schools to be hybrid that they should also be partially in person,” Bost said. “But it’s really like comparing apples and oranges to what we’re asking the schools to do.”