A Letter for the Maryland “Testing” Commission

I am gathering a list of signatories to add their names to this letter. Once we have gained solid numbers of signatures, I will send this letter with our names to the bill‘s sponsor Del. Eric Ebersole, D-Baltimore.


Dear Members of the Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools,

We (the signatories of this letter) have done our homework and we humbly request that you do yours as well prior to rendering any decisions about the future of PARCC or any standardized testing policy for MD public schools.

What we offer here is not our own personal opinions, though we believe that our own “boots on the ground” lived experiences with standardized testing as parents, students, and educators will confirm what decades have research have found. The information we provide here comes from decades of peer reviewed studies conducted by academics, scholars, and educators respected within their fields. We ask that you examine what they have to say in comparison to the test-driven polices being promoted by politicians and corporations who have clearly documented financial and economic interests in pushing a test-driven agenda.

The findings (listed in our recommended readings below) indicate the following conclusions we believe Maryland policy makers must consider:

1. Test-driven policies (high stakes attached to student promotion, graduation, and teacher evaluation) over the last 20 years have promised to create “success” only to reveal: a climate of cheating in low performing public schools; patterns of “cherry picking” students to yield high test results in charter schools (and increased drop out or suspension rates for low performing students); a skill-drill-and kill curriculum; loss of art, recess, PE, music, library and a creative curriculum in favor of more testing and test prep work; and loss of funding for necessary programs including reasonable class size, building infrastructure and personnel such as school nurses and counselors now funneled into the costs to administer standardized tests.

2.Not a single study in twenty years has documented a beneficial outcome for students or schools as a result of standardized testing. In other words, standardized testing does not help students or teachers achieve better results. It never has. And yet we spend billions of tax-payer dollars to perpetuate a faulty system of accountability which does not, nor will it ever, accurately, effectively, or honestly measure that which it claims to measure.

3. So ….What have the outcomes of 20 years of high stakes testing (HST) yielded?  They have yielded a climate of anxiety and stress for children. The research shows how as the intensity of HST has risen over the decades so have the rise in diagnosis of stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD and other mental disorders directly associated with the testing. It has resulted in abusive practices including forcing children to sit in their own waste (see http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/04/19/11289662-missouri-mom-kindergartner-humiliated-after-being-denied-bathroom-break), continued testing even while children are vomiting, or experiencing health or medial issues. Additionally, rates of anxiety, depression and even suicide among teachers (as in the case in Southgate, CA; http://www.allvoices.com/article/6887000) have been directly correlated with the pressures of high stakes testing.

4.Standardized testing is a failed system for ensuring equity and accountability especially in low income communities of color. In a report published entitled “Why People of Color Must Reject Market Based Reforms” (Smith, 2015) the authors (noting several studies) conclude:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
  • Test-based accountability prompted turnover that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • A great percentage of school closures did not result in sending students to better schools or save school districts money.
  • Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
  • The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.

5. “Success” measured by standardized test scores cannot reliably measure teacher “quality” much less a child’s intellectual promise. So many other factors related to issues of privilege or poverty (of the child, school, or community) are greater determiners of test scores than are student’s intelligence or teacher’s abilities. A 2014 American Statistical Association report on assessments reported teachers have a 1-14% variation on test scores or growth. That the majority of variation comes from sources outside the teachers control: resources, parents, economic status, curriculum, etc.

There is absolutely no single study that has been able to prove that testing has yielded greater equity or quality of education for low income and historically under-served students of color. But volumes of research have demonstrated it’s harm.

In summary, researchers across decades of study concur (and we agree) that standardized testing is a poor means for measuring accountability, student learning, or teacher performance. The testing refusal movement is growing and will not abate. It is time let go of old bad practices and look ahead.

We believe that with your help, Maryland could be a national leader in creating a model for educational success grounded in what has proven to work as a measure of progress: meaningful assessments such as systematic, project-based, and portfolio based programs; authentic engagement strategies; honest and rigorous peer and administrator observations; and teacher self-reflection. So what DOES work? Research indicates that performance-based assessment has been around for decades and successfully evaluates student success and learning.

Here are a few resources on authentic assessments:


Keeping Accountability Systems Accountable



What is Performance Based Assessment and Why Is It Important?


And lastly, if one must have a standardized test to compare schools and districts, scholars concur that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), used prior to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, should be reinstated as a “snap shot” of no-stakes accountability. Through NEAP we can discern what is needed, and invest monies now spent on annual pervasive costly and unreliable tests toward equitable and sustainable educational practices. But don’t take our word for it. Read what the real experts have to say (see Recommended readings below). These are not blogs or op eds. These are a mere sampling of the countless studies spanning decades, and published in reputable peer-reviewed scholarly journals. They are not corporate funded think-tanks or employees.

We conclude this letter with a quote from educator and scholar Herb Kohl:

“The French philosopher Michel Foucault extended the use of “panopticon” to characterize social institutions such as prisons, hospitals, mental asylums, and schools which institutionalize constant surveillance and exert mind control, often without the knowledge or awareness of the people being controlled. When I talk about an educational panopticon I mean a system in which teachers and students are under constant scrutiny, allowed no choice over what is learned or taught, evaluated continuously, and punished for what is considered inadequate performance.   In this context students and teachers are forced to live in a constant state of anxiety, self-doubt, wariness, anomie, and even suppressed rage…People who make and administer high stakes tests know the moral and personal costs of subjecting all students to them. People who insult and denigrate teachers by forcing scripted curriculum on them are perfectly aware that they are forcing teachers to act against their conscience and students to close down their minds. What must be raised and answered for is the moral cost of creating joyless schools that resemble panopticons.”



Maryland Residents

Morna McDermott, Baltimore County, tylerderden2012@gmail.com

Wendy Burtnick, Ann Arundel County

Cheryl Eng, Harford County

Crystal Smith, Baltimore City CrystalSmithMED@yahoo.com

Cindy Stickline Rose, Frederick County

Deb Stahl, Montgomery County, MD

Steve Lagana Frederick County

Carmita Vogel, Baltimore County

Amy Young-Buckler, Howard County

Cheryl Eng, Harford County

Leslie Guerra, Montgomery County

Brita Jenquin, Baltimore City

Barb Krupiarz, Howard County

Lucy Savage, Montgomery County

Rev. Frank N. Huminski, Montgomery County

Bonnie Bricker

Marijane Monck

Anne E. Levin Garrison, Anne Arundel County

Deborah Abramson Brooks Wsm

Francis Gebhart, Worcester County

Helen Atkinson, Teachers Democracy Project, Baltimore City

Cole Reilly, PhD., Baltimore City

Bess Altwerger, Howard County

Cristell Potts, Baltimore

Laurie Krauss Taylor, Baltimore County

Deliscia Casey-Pack, Baltimore County

Jessica Shiller, Baltimore City

Kim Holsapple, Harford County

Sarah Hoff, Baltimore City

Jill Fell, Baltimore County

Deborah Carter, Frederick County

Elisia Buchman,Howard County

Tara Coates-Harman, Baltimore County

Amanda Helt, Baltimore County

Seth Rich, Baltimore

Jenny Ratta, Baltimore County

Cheryl Davis, Prince George’s County

Myles Hoenig, Baltimore

Genevieve Demos Kelley, Prince George’s County

Add name/county here

Out-of-State Supporters

Heather Sullivan MacPhail, United Opt Out Michigan, Save Michigan’s Public Schools. (All three groups stand by this)

Donna Mace, Green Cove Springs, FL

Sheila Resseger, Cranston, RI

Joan Kramer, Los Angeles CA

Wendy Holmes, Providence, RI

Larry Lawrence, retired UCLA Lab School California

Alison McDowell, Philadelphia, PA

Add name/state here:

 Recommended Readings

Winfield, A. (2007). Eugenics and Education in America: Institutionalized Racism and the Implications of History, Ideology, and Memory (Complicated Conversation: a Book Series of Curriculum Studies).  New York: Peter Lang.

Au, W. (2008). Unequal by Design: High-Stakes Testing and the Standardization of Inequality. New York: Routledge.

Hursh, D. (2007) “Exacerbating inequality: the failed promise of the No Child Left Behind Act.” Race, Ethnicity & Education 10 (3), 295-308.

Czubaj, C. A. (1995). Standardized assessments used in American public schools are invalid and unreliable. Education, 116 (2), p180. 6p.

Hayden, J. (2011). Standardized Quantitative Learning Assessments and High Stakes Testing: Throwing Learning Down the Assessment Drain. Philosophy of Education Yearbook,  p177-185. 9p.

Ford, D Y. and Helms, J. (2012). Overview and Introduction: Testing and Assessing African Americans: “Unbiased” Tests are Still Unfair. Journal of Negro Education, 81 (3), p186-189. 4p

Segool, N K.; Carlson, J. S.; Goforth, A. N.; von der Emsbe, N.;Barterian, J. A. (2013).Heightened Test Anxiety among Young Children: Elementary School Students' Anxious Responses to High-Stakes Testing Psychology in the Schools, 50 (5), p489-499.

McCollum, D. L. (2011). The Deficits of Standardized Tests: Countering the Culture of Easy Numbers. Assessment Update, 23 (2), p3-5. 3p.

Smith, C. (2015). Why people of color must reject market-based reform. http://unitedoptout.com/2012/09/28/civil-rights-action/





Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

32 thoughts on “A Letter for the Maryland “Testing” Commission

  1. You can’t have so many typographical errors in a letter regarding education. Re-read your work and resubmit. I appreciate your effort.

    1. i am very open to anyone who notices things that might need editing that i may have missed to help me by illustrating what or where such errors exist. is it your job as a reader? no. but it certainly makes the work move more quickly and the goal is to grow the movement and more hands more help much better 🙂

  2. Barb Krupiarz, Howard County. Please do what is ultimately best for students and the results will be more visible than any standardized test results.

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