Md. State Board of Education Delays Standardized Testing Until Fall

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

After voting last week to administer statewide standardized tests this spring that could last more than seven hours, the Maryland State Board of Education reconsidered that plan and voted on Thursday to delay testing until fall.

Students would take shorter diagnostic tests in the fall, with the English section lasting 2 hours and 20 minutes and the math section lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes.

At a special board meeting called Thursday afternoon, State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon called this an “elegant solution” and contended that the fall test results would provide enough data to assess how well students have been learning during the pandemic.

“We won’t have any disruption this spring to any of the instruction,” Salmon said. “I think that going forward, it will be a way for us to mitigate and also identify some of the ways we can provide remediation and intervention to our students very early in the year and make sure we’re using all of our additional federal funds in a very fiscally responsible way.”

Some educators had disagreed with the school board decision last week, concerned that standardized testing would take too much from precious learning time which students have lost during the pandemic.

Early last week, the U.S. Department of Education said that states must administer annual standardized tests this year, but gave states flexibility to 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.

Salmon said she reviewed the federal guidance more carefully after the Feb. 23 board meeting and realized that postponing statewide testing until the fall was also an option the U.S. Department of Education was offering.

All board members except state board President Clarence Crawford, who was absent, and Rachel McCusker, the teacher member of the board, voted to accept Salmon’s proposal to delay standardized testing.

“I really think that any idea of testing right now is unpalatable to our community,” McCusker said. “I would just like for us as a group to be willing to take another look at it if the federal government gives us the opportunity to do so.”

She said she is worried that students may still be learning from home in the fall and implored the board to look into any additional waivers and flexibility offered by the U.S Department of Education.

McCusker also asked the board to consider using local school systems’ diagnostic assessments, but Salmon said that was untenable, as consistent statewide assessments are necessary to accurately ascertain whether students are up to grade level.

“Unless you have a common assessment, you cannot compare apples and apples, you get apples and oranges, so I think it’s still important for us to have that measure,” Salmon said.

Cheryl Bost, president of Maryland State Education Association, lauded the state board’s decision, but urged them to take full advantage of federal waivers to further curtail standardized testing time.

“Educators understand that what our students need right now isn’t mandated standardized testing, but instructional time, opportunities to learn and be with their classmates, and time to address their social-emotional well-being and any trauma caused by the pandemic,” Bost said in a statement.

“Maryland should take advantage of further waivers that may be offered by the federal government to allow for additional reductions in standardized testing time. We thank the State Board for their support of less testing and more learning for our students and urge the US Department of Education to quickly approve Maryland’s request,” she continued.

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