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Michael Fryar for Montgomery County Board of Education

The amount of testing is too damn high! – Text

Hey, I noticed that you said you want to get rid of assessment testing. Why is that?

Montgomery County has a myriad of assessment tests our kids are taking and it’s occupying a LOT of academic time. Fifth graders, for instance, are taking 25 days of tests out of a 180 day year. That’s a loss of 14% of instruction time.

But the tests aren’t all day!

No, but a good number of them are untimed. And while quite a few are one hour, that doesn’t include set up time, issues during testing time, clean up time, and additional time requested by students. A one hour test can mean 2 and ½ hours for a classroom. So if the class starts at 9 am, it’s 11:30 am before the testing is completed and they now have special, lunch, and recess. So a one-hour test leaves only 2 hours of instruction at the end of the day out of 6.5 hours.

What are the tests you’re talking about?

Well, 5th graders do the following:

MAP Growth – Math – 3 times a year

Eureka Math – 4 times a year

So that’s 7 days of Math assessment testing, or approximately one test a month.

MAP Growth – Reading – 3 times a year

Benchmark – 4 times a year

That’s 7 days of Reading assessment testing, or approximately one test a month

MCAP – State test – takes place over 8 days at 1+ hour per day (some schools double the math to cut it to 6 days)

MISA – State Science test – 1 day

The fifth grade also have

MD School survey – 1 day

Cognative abilities – 1 day, 2 hours.

But we need the tests to tell us how our children are performing!

Well, to begin with, the data is horribly unreliable. A significant number of kids suffer from test anxiety which lowers their performance because of the unknown of the test. This isn’t a quiz on material covered for which they can study. A lot of kids describe it as a “gaping black hole of unknown.”

On the other end of the spectrum, kids in Montgomery County suffer from test fatigue. They are tired of the tests and no longer take them seriously. So they fire through them as fast as possible – some completing an hour long test as quickly as 15 minutes so they can do something else.

In addition, they’re taking them on Chromebooks, which have become notoriously unreliable. They shut down, quit the test program, or have internet connection issues as a rule. This means that tests are consistently and constantly interrupted. So a student in the middle of a reading passage can’t get back to it and may not remember what they read to answer the questions when the Chromebook is finally booted back up.

Then there’s another issue – by the time the data gets back to the teachers for the county tests, they are weeks past the assessment and the child is in a different place because the teacher, doing their job, has already identified deficiencies and was working with the child on them.

And while some might argue that the county data has some use, the state tests are utterly useless as anything other than a benchmark because the information doesn’t come in until the student is in the next grade.

But there’s a testing coordinator at each building that should be fixing these issues!

The testing coordinator is an unpaid ‘voluntold’ position that dominates more and more of a teacher’s time until it is their primary responsibility. They did not apply to become testing coordinators, are not paid to be testing coordinators and, quite frankly, are not computer or testing experts. They are teachers or content experts that want to do the job they were hired to do – teach – and not spend enormous amounts of time coordinating and troubleshooting testing.

But it’s state law that children be tested!

Most states just have one test, such as the MCAP, which shows where students are academically in that specific moment in time. Maryland not only requires that testing be done, but that it be that specific test. So the MAP can’t replace the MCAP.  The state MCAP was determined to be useless because the information comes in so late. So counties started developing their own tests to get more immediate information.

But that information is not for the teachers or parents – teachers know each of their students better than any test. As do parents. The test information is solely for the benefit of the county and serves no other purpose.

But how will we hold our teachers accountable for the work they do if we don’t have testing?

Children are not a widget coming off of an assembly line. They are complex, developing human beings and there is not a test on the planet that can capture who they are and what they can do. An assessment test might get a snapshot of a particular day, at a particular time, in a particular moment. And even that is unreliable as noted above.

As with any job, there is a manager – the Principal in this case – who has the job of getting to know staff, being familiar with their work, sitting in classrooms to observe, and doing formal reviews. So teachers are held accountable for the work they do by their supervisors and management, the same as any other career.