Tossing the test: Will Maryland students skip state exams?

WASHINGTON – Tell kids there’s a test coming up and they have one question: “Will this test count?”

And now, in Maryland, educators and lawmakers are asking the same question.

They’re wondering why kids who are now being taught the Common Core curriculum should take the Maryland State Assessments. The MSAs don’t “align” or match up, with the standards in the Common Core.

Common Core State Standards are a set of guidelines regarding what should be taught to students in math and English or language arts classes.

Dr. Joshua Starr, Montgomery County’s superintendent of schools, put it this way at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting: “Why continue to test on an old standard when we’re teaching to a new one?”

One answer to that is that the MSAs have been part of the federal requirement to measure school performance for more than a decade. Still, educators and members of the Montgomery County Board of Education, say making teachers teach to that test, and asking kids to take it seriously, sends a mixed message.

Michael Durso, a former principal and Montgomery County School Board member shook his head when discussing the testing.

“By any stretch of the imagination it makes very little sense,” he said.

And some Maryland lawmakers agree that it makes no sense to use a test that doesn’t match up with the current curriculum. So they’re submitting bills in the Maryland General Assembly designed to get a waiver from the Maryland State Department of Education.

That may be a tall order: The current State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery has been a proponent of the exams.

Starr, who’s been a critic of some forms of high stakes tests in the past said, “I have been very clear that the MSA is not something we are working towards. I don’t want to see pep rallies, don’t spend any time on it.”

But Starr added, citing the bind that teachers are in, “they’ve been organized around it for 13 years… they’re in a terrible position.”

At the board’s business meeting Tuesday, member Christ Barclay said, speakingof the effort spent preparing kids to take the exams seriously, “the amount of hoopla that goes on to get folks motivated so they’re prepared for it… why do that?”

Citing the misalignment of the test to the current curriculum, board member Patricia O’Neill said it amounted to “testing for testing’s sake” and declared it “foolish.”

For more information about the Common Core academic standards, read this Q&A from the Associated Press.

While D.C. and 45 other states have adopted the Common Core, Virginia hasn’t.

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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