Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Want to do nothing? Refer to a commission.

Want to do nothing?  Refer to a Commission.

The Maryland General Assembly adjourned the third week of April.  During the session legislators heard lots of concerns about the amount of testing in Maryland’s public schools and the amount of time both the testing and the preparation for the testing were taking away from instruction.  People wanted the legislature to take some action to help.   BUT the legislature did what it frequently does with thorny issues.  They referred it to a commission.

Commissions and committees, democracy’s way of kicking the can down the road.  Now the Commission will soon be coming out with its report.  Mostly the report kicked the proverbial can down a couple of alleyways called local school districts.

One of the charges to the Commission was to determine whether some assessments are duplicative or otherwise unnecessary.   But the Commission didn’t do that.   The chair, a Montgomery County High School principal, said the Commission could not respond to that question because they did not have sufficient information.  The chair also said he wasn’t comfortable telling local districts what to do.  Whatever happened to State guidance here? And if the State isn't comfortable telling locals what to do, they sure haven't shown that to date.

Local school boards will need to accept or reject the findings and recommendations of the Commission by September 1 and send their responses to the State Board of Education which must also “accept or reject”  and pass its recommendations on to the Governor and the General Assembly by October 1.

So what was the major production of this Commission?  The Commission recommended the creation of committees on assessment in each of Maryland’s 24 school districts.  Nothing like taking a firm position on testing!  The House of Delegates had passed a bill to limit testing to 2% of instructional time.  The State Senate did not pass the bill.  The Commission declined to support that measure and said it was too simplistic.

Most of the testing is the result of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).  The PARCC tests are supposedly designed to measure progress in the Common Core curriculum.  Initially, there were 20 states in the partnership, most of them on the east coast and into the Great Lakes region.  That number has now dwindled to only six other states besides Maryland.  Clearly, the reduction of testing is trending.  Probably would have been a safe bet for the Commission to take a position.  But, hey taking a position is not the purpose of a commission or a committee.  The purpose is to kick the can down the road and to provide cover so that legislators do not have to make a decision that could possibly be controversial.  By that metric this Commission did its job.  The full report will be out July 1.  I can hardly wait.

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