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Standardized tests to start this week

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland schools plan to start their annual round of standardized tests this week, despite legislators’ efforts to cancel or replace them this year.

Del. Eric Luedtke and Sen. Nancy King said the Maryland School Assessments would waste classroom time because they no longer reflect what students are learning. The Common Core State Standards have led to curriculum changes, and the Maryland tests haven’t kept pace, they said, but their bills never made it past legislative committees.

“We were running on too short of a timeline,” Luedtke said.

Even if one had passed into law, the process of cancelling the tests could have taken weeks.

On Monday morning, after school closings had been announced throughout the state and the snowfall continued, an image from the Peanuts comic appeared on the Maryland State Education Association’s Facebook page. It showed the character Lucy surrounded by snowflakes, and it said, “Even Mother Nature thinks giving the MSA this year is a bad idea.”

By the late afternoon, nearly 2,000 people had shared it, and hundreds more had praised the photo in comments.

MSEA spokesman Adam Mendelson said this was the biggest response the organization has ever generated from a Facebook post.

The MSEA is a union representing about 70,000 teachers.

Many teachers and parents have voiced support for Luedtke and King’s bills. However, the Maryland Department of Education has argued that the MSAs still have value, and that trying to cancel them would be impracticable.

This year a small group of students will try out a new test, which corresponds to Common Core standards, instead of the MSAs. Those students will likely be allowed to skip portions of the MSAs to avoid overlap. But this new test needs tweaking before it’s ready for the whole state.

Meanwhile, the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to test students in third through eighth grades, every year, in math and reading.

Luedtke and King wanted to seek a federal waiver from this requirement, or to work with the federal government and find an alternative test to administer this spring.

Luedtke said the test disrupts classrooms for about 10 days, and he said it would hurt some students’ confidence to score poorly on the MSAs. He said teachers don’t like testing students on material they’ve never learned.

But Mendelson and Luedtke said on Monday that the effort had sparked important conversations about the purpose and value of standardized tests. It also garnered public interest in other facets of the Common Core transition.

“Those conversations are continuing with several other bills,” Mendelson said.

One of these bills would create a workgroup to assess each school’s needs as they continue adapting to Common Core standards. Another would give school districts more freedom concerning teacher evaluations, particularly during this transitional period.