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Maryland Teachers Unsure About Banning Testing

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)- Legislation that seeks to cancel most standardized testing in Maryland's public schools this spring would leave teachers unsure about what to plan for, a top state education official said Wednesday.

Jack Smith, Maryland's chief academic officer, also said he suspects skipping the tests would cost the state tens of millions of federal dollars -- more than it would save in test administration fees.

Smith argued in favor of testing before skeptical lawmakers Wednesday at the House Ways and Means Committee. Several suggested canceling the tests might be best for the students, as it would free classroom time.

The Maryland School Assessments do not correspond to curriculum changes associated with the Common Core standards. Students will take a new test next year, but for now the schools remain in an awkward position.

Teachers don't want to test students on material they've never learned; it hurts the kids' confidence, said Del. Eric Luedtke, the bill's sponsor. Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, teaches social studies at a middle school.

However, the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to test students in third through eighth grades, every year, in math and reading.

This year a small group of students will try out a new test, which corresponds to Common Core standards, instead of the MSAs. Those students will likely be allowed to skip portions of the MSAs to avoid overlap. But this new test needs tweaking before it's ready for the whole state.

Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said federal authorities decide on a case-by-case basis how much funding a state will lose for not administering any standardized tests.

In a letter sent in October, the U.S. Department of Education told California officials that if their state didn't test students, it would be out of compliance with programs that provide more than $3.5 billion annually.

Under Luedtke's bill, Maryland would seek a waiver from the testing requirement. If the federal government denies that request, it will weigh the potential funding loss against the amount it would save by canceling the test -- which Smith estimated between $7 and $8 million.

Luedtke said the test also disrupts classrooms for about 10 school days -- a point that several lawmakers raised later when they drilled Smith with questions.

Time is running short. The MSAs are scheduled to start in less than four weeks.

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