Lawmakers, Educators Push for Less Classroom-testing Time

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Maryland is ranked as the second-worst state in the nation for teacher classroom autonomy, according to the Learning Policy Institute, and testing mandates are a major contributor to this ranking, according to the Maryland State Education Association.

Lawmakers and educators testified Wednesday before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee in favor of the Less Testing, More Learning Act — legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, that would limit standardized testing to 2 percent of class time, or about 21.6 hours for elementary and middle schools and 23.4 hours for high school each school year.

In 2015, The U.S. Department of Education recommended that a student spend no more than 2 percent of their time in class taking required statewide standardized assessments.

“About 21 hours testing or 2 percent of instructional time annually is more than enough time to make sure students are on track to be successful throughout the year,” Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association and a middle school teacher for Kent County Public Schools said during the hearing.

The bill also repeals statewide social studies assessments both on the middle school and high school levels.

As an alternative, starting during the 2017-2018 school year, each local board of education should design and administer their own social studies assessment as part of the local curriculum, according to the bill.

Manno testified during the hearing that the legislation will allow local committees to be able to determine their own social studies curricula.

About two-thirds of the state Senate — 31 members — are co-sponsors of the bill. The House of Delegates unanimously passed similar legislation last year, according to a Maryland State Education Association press release.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the average student took 249 total hours of standardized tests from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to a Maryland State Education Association analysis based on date from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Those hours do not include preparation, in-class tests, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams and, in a majority of cases, exams such as the ACT and the SAT are not included, according to the Maryland State Education Association.

Celia Burton, testing coordinator for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said at the hearing that since this past September students have had 71 different types of mandated tests.

In her school district, Burton said, some students are not allowed or able to attend Black History Month programs because of testing for student learning objectives that are used for teacher evaluations. They are being assessed for courses such as math, reading, science, physical education, health, foreign language and band.

“They are required to take one assessment per content area and the questions are more than 30 questions on each of the assessments,” Burton said.

Maryland Parent and Teacher Association President Elizabeth Ysla-Leight also supports the act and said she believes there are many benefits to cutting back on testing and spending more time on learning.

“As a stakeholder … for the Every Student Succeeds Act, we believe that the more active time students spend in the classroom — actually learning — benefits their achievement and … meeting their potential in schools,” Ysla-Leight said. “We believe the benefits is that they’re actually going to be learning as opposed to being assessed on what they already learned.”

Manno also said students being exposed to the arts and physical education in school helps them become well-balanced, and well-rounded to prepare for the future.

“The onerous non-stop grind towards these benchmarks — towards these federal, state benchmarks to prepare them for these tests and for them to perform on a dime during these tests are really getting to inhibit their ability to…be productive, wonderful, flourishing young people who I know we all want to continue to grow and to nurture,” Manno said during the hearing.

Manno emphasized that although the bill will limit testing time, he does support standardized testing.

“There’s a great need for benchmarks and preparation for critical subjects but we’ve, I think, begun to pile up in terms of these tests and as a result kids, who we all know need a rich, diverse, instructional experience and environment, have essentially become slaves to the test,” Manno said.

By Brianna Rhodes

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