JEREMY BAUER-WOLF
The Frederick News-Post

WOODSBORO, Md. (AP) — Back in 2010, Nikki Moberly secured a legislative victory in Annapolis for her daughter, Erin, who is just entering high school this year but whose intellectual capabilities are comparable to those of a 3-month-old baby, Moberly said.

The Woodsboro resident helped shepherd a bill through the General Assembly that led to some students such as Erin, who have profound or severe disabilities, being exempted from the Alternative

Maryland School Assessment, the state standardized test given to some students with disabilities.

But Moberly says that her advocacy never ends, an apt battle cry, considering that a new state standardized test will replace the Alt-MSA in mathematics and English come spring, a test for which Moberly will seek a similar exemption for Erin.

And though the testing date is looming, the state has not yet provided Frederick County Public Schools with training on how to administer this exam.

The National Center and State Collaborative, a purely digital test, will succeed the Alt-MSA.

While the Alt-MSA asks students with disabilities to hit a switch to indicate their answer to a question, the NCSC requires students with disabilities to respond to questions with a computer, assisted by either a mouse or touchscreen as necessary, said Daniel Martz, director of special education and psychological services for county schools.

The new test, developed by a collaborative of more than 20 states, aligns with the state Common Core Standards, which Frederick County has been shifting to in recent years.

Students without disabilities will take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, which matches the Common Core standards.

Both the NCSC and Alt-MSA test students on content that is taught at grade level, not taking into account their disabilities. Erin would be asked questions a high school freshman would be expected to know, for instance.

Moberly years ago partnered with Prince George’s County Democrat Sen. Paul Pinsky, the vice chairman of the state Senate’s education, health and environmental affairs committee, who hustled through a bill that required the Maryland State Department of Education to re-examine the Alt-MSA. This led to an exemption being added to the Alt-MSA for “medically fragile” students, like Erin, who, in addition to their intellectual disabilities, lack the motor skills to hit the switches on the Alt-MSA test without a test proctor moving the student’s hands to hit the switch.

At 2 months old, Erin was diagnosed with Aicardi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that means Erin lacks connective tissue between the two halves of her brain, Moberly said. She attends the Rock Creek School in Frederick County, a school for students with severe disabilities.

“There are kids at Rock Creek who can hit a switch on being prompted. It’s not necessarily they understand the academic content, but rather it’s fun, it’s a game,” Moberly said.

Moberly wants to ensure that those students — ones who are developmentally delayed and who also cannot control their movements — be exempt from the NCSC.

A rule exists within the guidelines for administering the NCSC that if four questions are presented to a student, and that student cannot reliably respond, that the test stop.

This is a fine remedy for Moberly’s worries, she said, but she’s looking for assurance that teachers would adhere to this stop rule.

“My concern is, and why I’m continuing to push on (state and county officials) to give me more information, is that I’ve seen things that in theory sounded like they would work well, and in practice, they did not necessarily work that well.”

Teachers will be trained in administering the stop rule, and the entire test, with a computer module that the state Department of Education will provide, Martz said, though the state has yet to distribute this.

Martz said he expects that the school system will receive this module in February.

This training takes only four hours to complete, Martz said. Some teachers though, have already started to prep for the NCSC.

“School test coordinators and select special education teachers began participating in collaborative meetings at the county level to support curriculum, instruction, and assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities,” Martz wrote in an email.

Moberly said she wants continued communication between the state and the county school system.

“I want to make sure the education to the teachers, and the communication is clear, concise, and the stopping rule is executed with fidelity,” she said.

Few students qualify for the Alt-MSA exemption, and only two students in Frederick County, and 20 to 25 students in the entire state, take advantage of that exemption, Moberly said.

Approximately 185 students in grades three through eight, and in grade 11, will participate in the NCSC, Martz said. This is similar to the number of students who take the Alt-MSA annually.

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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