By Brian Washington
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Last year, the Maryland General Assembly took a pass on legislation to cut down on the state’s overreliance on standardized testing in public schools, electing to create a commission to study the issue instead.
According to Casey Day-Kells, a 5th grade teacher in Frederick County, “the testing issue wasn’t on anyone’s radar” in Annapolis.
However, what a difference a year can make—especially when that year involves a successful, educator-led campaign to curb the inordinate amount of time teachers, education support professionals, and students must devote to preparing, administering, and taking standardized tests. Months of town halls, lobby meetings, press stories, and legislator contacts culminated in last month’s week of action, when thousands of Maryland educators wore red to their schools and emailed, called, and tweeted at their legislators urging them to take action on reducing testing.
“There are now multiple bills that have been brought through (the General Assembly) aimed at reducing the amount of time standardized testing takes away from learning,” said Day-Kells. “Several of them stand a good chance of passing with huge bipartisan support. I think that’s a real testament to the work that’s being done by educators across the state.”
One of the bills would set a 2 percent cap on how much instruction time during the school year can be used for mandated standardized tests. The bill passed the House last month with unanimous, bipartisan support, although it has not come up for a vote yet in the Senate.
Some counties have 50 to 60 hours of testing requirements,” said Day-Kells. “There are districts that are going to see huge returns if this bill is passed. That’s more time to put back into the classroom in terms of teaching and giving kids the opportunity to learn and get the content they need.
Another promising bill is Senate Bill 794—which has been approved by both the House and Senate and, once minor differences in amendments are reconciled, will be signed into law. SB 794 seeks to make significant changes to the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA)—a lengthy test covering several months that is administered individually to each kindergarten student.
“It could take upwards of 90-minutes per student to administer,” said Day-Kells. “So you can imagine when students should be learning routines, how to be behave in a classroom, and making friends, their first weeks are all spent testing.”
If the changes to the KRA are approved, the test would be administered to only a sample of students entering kindergarten .
The legislature also seems likely to approve bills to create more transparency about the number of tests scheduled in a district by providing parents with regular reports.
Day-Kells believes the momentum behind these bills and several others currently in the legislature is the result of educators reaching out to their communities. She says her union, the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), which represents about 71,000 educators across the state, was instrumental in forging coalitions with a wide variety of different organizations, including some it has never worked with before.
“We worked with groups who, in the past, may have had the incorrect perception about the union—that it was only out for its members. But they got to see that we really do have the kids’ best interest in mind,” said Day-Kells. “We are focusing on students’ welfare and any partner who wants to join us in doing that is a good partner.