Another bite at a testing moratorium

I posted earlier on efforts by Washington state teachers to boycott standardized tests. Last month the superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, likewise called for a testing moratorium while the state moved forward on implementing the common core standards. Here’s a link to his Washington Post op-ed:

Although the Superintendent Starr gives this only a glancing and indirect mention, much of what’s at issue in Maryland – and other states – is a proposal that student achievemnt data be one element of teacher evaluation. As Education sector analyst Kristen Amundson explains (in an op-ed that also initially appeared in the Washington Post),

In the 1980s, Maryland was one of the first states to require students to pass a minimum competency test to receive a high school diploma. In the 1990s, the state developed the Maryland School Performance Assessment program (since replaced by theMaryland School Assessment), which provided student data to teachers and schools.

That history of accountability was central to the state’s receiving a waiver from some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. The promises of some relief from federal requirements were predicated, in part, on a commitment that evaluations of principals and teachers would consider actual student achievement. Now, Starr is balking at using student achievement data as any part of the evaluation system for teachers or principals.

Amundson also notes that while overall Montgomery County, Maryland students perform very well, these averages can disguise a huge disparity among students.

On average, 44.1 percent of MCPS students scored at the advanced level on the state’s elementary school reading exam. But while 60 percent of white students achieved that goal, only 27.4 percent of African American students did. In math, the numbers are roughly equivalent. While 45.8 percent of all students performed at the advanced level, just 24.3 percent of black students achieved that level, compared with 62.3 percent of white students.

According to a 2011 report by Maryland’s Higher Education Commission, in fiscal 2009 Montgomery College had the largest number of full-time equivalent students — 1,852 — in remedial education classes among Maryland community colleges. In other words, 11 percent of all Montgomery College students were paying tuition to relearn things they should have learned in high school.

Superintendent Starr argues that once the Common Core is implemented, the county will have much more informative assessment data, based on new tests that will capture higher-order learning skills. I’m all for developing better tests, though I’ve warned before that if we really start testing higher analytical, reading, writing, and math analysis skills, we may not be all that happy with what we discover. Still, I think it might be useful to see how students continue to perform on more basic skills tests while these new, allegedly much-improved tests are being developed.

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