This school year, Maryland implemented higher standards for student learning in all schools across the state.
The Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards are based on the Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by Maryland and over 40 other states. The new standards provide students with the relevant real-world knowledge and skills needed for success in college and careers.
In order to measure student mastery of the new standards, next year Maryland will implement new state assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). These assessments will replace the current statewide tests, including the Maryland State Assessment (MSA). The MSA in reading/English Language Arts (ELA) and math will be given for the last time in grades three; four; five; six; seven; and eight in March.
The final administration of the MSA will provide a snap shot of achievement that is disaggregated by racial and student services subgroups. For example, if English Language Learners at school A are doing better than those particular students at school B, we’d like to know about it and understand why. Teachers can use this information to target instruction, ensure students are proficient in reading and math, and address any gaps in learning during the transition to higher standards.
Routine and regular assessment for all Maryland students in the tested grades has served our state well and we will continue that policy in this transition year. In addition, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), requires all students in grades three to eight be tested every year in reading and math. Annual testing is important to help ensure that all students are making progress.
As we give the MSA this spring, we will simultaneously field-test the new PARCC exams in a classroom or two in nearly every school. The field test is an opportunity to “test the test”— to see how well the test works, determine the quality of questions, and make any necessary adjustments before it is given to all students in school year 2014-15.
Those students participating in the subject-area field tests will not take the same subject-area MSA tests. For example, if a student participates in the PARCC field test for fourth-grade mathematics, that student will not take the MSA fourth-grade mathematics test. In other words, Maryland has adopted the “one test-one child” assessment model to ensure that students are not being assessed twice in the same subject area.
Those students who do not participate in the PARCC field test will take the MSA.
Maryland’s focus is on maintaining our educational progress, boosting improvement, and continuing our transition to a more rigorous curriculum designed to strengthen college- and career-readiness. Keeping the MSA test for one more year is not a perfect solution, but it is a sensible one.
Finally, I encourage all parents to support their students by encouraging them to tryout the sample questions for grades three to five; grades six to eight; and high school by logging onto www.parccconline.org.
PARCC test questions measure deeper learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Compare existing test questions and see the difference for yourself. I invite you to make this transition year a family learning opportunity. Thank you for all that you do to support Maryland students.
Lillian Lowery is the State Superintendent of Schools.