Delegate: Not too late to cancel standardized test

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Local,Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Public schools are set to begin the Maryland School Assessments in less than five weeks, but lawmakers who consider the test too outdated say there's still time to cancel it for the year. Next week the House of Delegates will review a proposal to do that.

Based on federal law, it looks unlikely that Maryland could skip the test without paying a fine. However, if the bill passes, the state may cancel the test anyway and accept the penalty.

The test has math and reading sections for students in third through eighth grades. The problem is that it doesn't correspond to Common Core curriculum, which Maryland has been using since 2011.

"You never test kids on something they haven't been taught," said Del. Eric Luedtke, the bill's sponsor and a middle-school teacher. "That's rule number one."

Next year Maryland will use a new standardized test that corresponds to Common Core. For the meantime, the state is in an awkward position.

State education officials, who oppose Luedtke's bill, say the current assessment tests still provide useful data. For instance, if one school yields high scores from students learning English, and another yields low scores, the state can examine the disparity, said William Reinhard, a spokesman for Maryland's education department.

"Students aren't moved forward by not testing them," Reinhard said.

Luedtke disagrees. Schools are at different stages of implementing Common Core, which makes the data "statistically meaningless," in his opinion.

Luedtke's bill has wide backing from other educators. This week, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education officially endorsed it. The Maryland State Education Association, a union representing more than 70,000 public school teachers and employees, has heard overwhelming support from its members and from parents.

Adam Mendelson, the union's spokesman, said the current tests would waste time and money if administered this year. Luedtke estimates they would disrupt schedules for 10 school days, and they cost about $6 million.

Mendelson also predicted students would score badly because they weren't prepared, which would confuse the public.

"Seeing test scores go down after Maryland schools have had so much success sends a contradictory message," he said.

But leaving these concerns aside, canceling the test would breach a federal requirement: All students from third through eighth grade must be tested, every year, according to the No Child Left Behind Act.

The question is whether the federal government would negotiate.

Dorie Nolt, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said the government does waive the testing requirement in some cases. It would certainly consider any request Maryland submitted. But more often these waivers help avoid double-testing on the same subject.

"We generally do not grant waivers to exempt states from testing altogether," Nolt said. "Testing is required by law."

Luedtke suggested the waiver could involve an alternate test.

But ultimately, according to his bill, if Maryland could not get a waiver, it would investigate the penalty for skipping the test. If the penalty were below $6 million, the state would just pay.

"Everyone agrees we should not be giving this test — except the state superintendent," he said.

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