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Maryland Teachers Union Calls for Suspension of Kindergarten Tests

The Maryland state teachers' union is calling on the state to suspend its new kindergarten-readiness test, saying that it takes too much time away from instruction and makes developmentally inappropriate demands on children.

In a survey report released Tuesday, the Maryland State Education Association says that nine in 10 kindergarten teachers who responded to the survey said that the readiness test would not improve instruction. Union officials said they decided to survey teachers after hearing complaints about the new assessment. The report is based on a sample that might not be representative of Maryland's 3,500 kindergarten teachers, however: 334 responses to an online survey and 140 descriptive responses, sent in by email.

Teachers in Maryland are trying out the kindergarten readiness assessment for the first time this school year. They have been administering readiness tests for many years, but this one is newly redesigned, with the aim of getting a more nuanced picture of children's strengths and needs as they begin kindergarten. I spent time in a Maryland classroom earlier this year, watching one teacher put it into practice. Take a look at that story—and watch a webinar I just moderated on the same topic—for a more detailed look at what Maryland is trying to do with this new test.

In the MSEA's survey, some teachers criticized the readiness assessment for being too long, or developmentally inappropriate.

"It is not age appropriate for kindergarteners to be assessed so much without proper time to become kindergarten students," wrote one teacher.

"I had students who cried and stated they were stupid because they felt they did not know some answers and were upset because they thought they were supposed to know the answers," another teacher said.

Some teachers took issue with the timing of the test; they said that instead of administering it in the first two months of the school year, it would be more valuable if given when children complete pre-K. That would allow kindergarten teachers to obtain a detailed profile of their incoming classes and be ready when school begins.

Despite the criticism in the survey, six in 10 teachers reported that the test did yield information that is "moderately valuable" to teachers. Eight in 10, however, reported technological problems administering the test (portions of it are given to students on tablet devices) or entering their data.

Teachers also complained that professional development for the new tests was weak, and that the assessments don't make sufficient accommodations for students with special needs.

Based on that feedback, the MSEA wants the Maryland state board and department of education to suspend the test "until critical revisions to the assessment and its implementation" are made.

UPDATE: Rolf H. Grafwallner, Maryland's assistant superintendent for early learning, told me that the education department welcomes feedback on the readiness assessment as it begins shaping plans to revise it for next year. The department, too, has surveyed teachers, and is currently analyzing those results along with the information in the MSEA's report.

He said he intends to assemble a group of teachers soon for a "planning meeting" aimed at making the assessment shorter and easier to use. He also thinks that the department needs to work harder to show teachers how the data gleaned from the assessment can be valuable in their instruction.

"We will be in conversation with the union to see how we can move foward," Grafwallner said.

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