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Indiana's Common-Core 'Pause' Might Grow Longer, and Other Testing News

For some time, Indiana has been operating in something of a gray zone on the Common Core State Standards. As part of a budget deal approved last summer, the state is reviewing the common core and is slated to make a call on whether or not to keep the standards this summer. That's led many to write that Indiana is experiencing a "pause" in its implementation of the standards, though that might not be the right word to describe it.

But whatever you want to call it, the review Indiana is undertaking will be extended by a year, if state Sen. Luke Kenley gets his way. Kenley, a Republican, has filed a bill in the state legislature (hat tip to Kyle Stokes and Elle Moxley of State Impact) that would put off the state board of education's decision about the common core until July 1, 2015. The bill also states that for school years beginning after June 30, 2016, the state education department would be required "to administer either the ISTEP assessment or a comparable assessment program that is aligned with the educational standards adopted by the state board."

If this bill becomes law, it would extend what has already become a lengthy fight over common core in Indiana, one that extends at least as far back as the start of 2013, when one of Kenley's colleagues, GOP Sen. Scott Schneider, filed legislation to try to get the state to drop the standards. The state board is scheduled to receive more public input about the standards over the next few months. And if the state ultimately adopts a new state assessment, it wouldn't be administered until the 2016-17 school year, two years after common-core-aligned tests from two multistate consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) are slated to first be administered.

In another piece of news regarding legislation and state assessments, a Maryland legislator, Democratic Del. Eric Luedtke, has filed a bill that would prohibit the Maryland education department from administering the Maryland School Assessment this coming spring. The Maryland State Education Association and others have argued that the since the MSA is not aligned to the common core, which has been implemented in state schools, it no longer makes sense to give it to students, and Luedtke agrees. 

"The MSA tests students on material they aren't being taught, and takes away valuable teaching time to do it," Luedtke told the Maryland Reporter news site. "It's testing for the sake of testing, and we should not be giving it."

However, there's a caveat to Luedtke's bill. It says that unless the state receives either a waiver from portions of the No Child Left Behind Act from the feds regarding the test, or a "response" about the MSA two weeks before the test is due to be administered, the state could not give the MSA "unless the [Maryland] Department determines that the penalty the Department would receive from the [U.S. Department of Education] for not administering the MSA is more than the savings or benefits the Department would receive from not administering the MSA."

That "penalty" seems to be reference to the following scenario: If the state drops the MSA this spring and doesn't replace it with a new, comparable assessment that can be used for accountability purposes, it potential violates the terms of Maryland's NCLB waiver, which requires such tests. But remember, even if the federal Education Department ultimately revokes Maryland's waiver under such circumstances, the state would still have to administer some sort of equivalent test under NCLB. Luedtke doesn't appear to mention replacing the MSA with another test, common-core aligned or not, in his bill or remarks to the Maryland Reporter.

In a statement he emailed to me, Maryland department spokesman William Reinhard said, "We're focused on giving the MSA one last time this year as we transition to the PARCC exam in 2014-15.  Maryland schools are field-testing the PARCC assessment this year, but not all students can take the field test. While imperfect, there is important information to be gleaned from the MSA in the areas that are aligned with the new College and Career-Ready standards, and federal law requires an annual assessment in reading and math for all students, grades 3-8."

Remember that Maryland is field-testing the assessment from PARCC, and has applied for a double-testing waiver so that it can suspend some of its current tests. It's not clear how Luedtke's bill would impact or be affected by those moving parts. 

Also, remember that New York state has agreed to delay administering PARCC tests for a year (the state has already administered its own common-core test), and Massachusetts is using a two-year transition plan for those assessmentsIt will be interesting to see how many states ultimately show strong interest in delaying new assessments, or a reluctance to use their current assessments at the end of this school year. The playing field for common-core tests could continue to fragment. 

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