Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Variation seen in testing time in Maryland schools


A commission established by the Maryland General Assembly has reported back regarding the number of hours students in Maryland public schools spend taking locally-, state-, and federally-mandated tests, Maryland reports.

The data are a mess, and there are wide variations from county to county and from grade level to grade level within each of the counties. I have created a map-like summary of the data, shown below. You might have to make the maps one size bigger (except the total map) and move Maryland to the center of the image. The license I have for Tableau doesn’t cost $999 a year, so some features aren’t allowed.

The Maryland State Department of Education spent considerable time visiting the central offices in each of the 24 school districts to amass these data. The department has provided a convenient one-page summary, available here.

The state will continue to study the matter, since nobody’s sure yet what the wide variance in numbers means. They’ll bring in more experts, such as professors from Maryland universities, to see if anything can be learned from this report.

I have avoided reporting on this because several people I work with were involved in traveling out to district central offices to collect the data.

The overwhelming feeling among my colleagues was that kids spend lots of time taking tests, especially in high school, and more in some districts than in others. But these were not state- or federally-mandated tests; they were mandated by the local school system. Data don’t include state- or federally-mandated testing of 0.75 hours in kindergarten, 8.15 hours in third grade, 8.3 hours in fourth grade, 10.3 hours in fifth grade, 7.0 hours in sixth and seventh grades, or 9.0 hours in eighth grade, since these hours are spent by students in all 24 school systems.

The wide variation in testing times among Maryland school districts is a strong contraindication for any action at the state level, I believe. A new law that would standardize the amount of testing kids are allowed to take in the entire state could reduce testing time for some students but would have the opposite effect on others.

It could be best left up to individual school systems to determine how much testing is effective for kids in those schools and with those teachers. Any kind of state or federal law that dictates the amount of testing kids can take would also impede the ability teachers need to make decisions that are appropriate for their own students on an individual basis.

Furthermore, because of the small sample in terms of the number of tests studied, comparisons from one school system to another are difficult and should be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, we don’t really know if Anne Arundel’s 243.6 hours of total locally-mandated testing is greater, in terms of statistical significance, than Montgomery’s 191.5 hours.

If smart people can’t see a pattern in these results, it could be because no such pattern exists, and—at least at the state level—we need to concern ourselves with what we can and should control. That is not the number of hours teachers can spend testing students.

Testing is basically up to teachers and up to school districts, not the state, since no real trends emerge on a statewide basis in these actual data from Maryland’s schools.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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