New Tests To Help Grade Schools' Performance

Time Spent Testing Students To Nearly Double

November 18, 1990|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

New tests that will go with "report cards" for Maryland school systems will nearly double the amount of time Howard County 3rd-, 5th- and 8th-graders spend taking standardized tests next school year.

The tests are part of Maryland's new program for evaluating its 24 school systems on the quality of education they provide. The State Department of Education plans to release its first reports under the new program tomorrow.

The increase in testing resulted when local school officials decided to continue giving tests that measure student performance against a national standard in addition to the newly required tests, which show what areas of a subject a student has mastered and how well he can apply what he has learned in solving problems.

Students who now spend an average of seven hours a year taking standardized tests will spend from 11 to 13 hours in 1990-1991, reported Maurice F. Kalin, associate superintendent for planning and support services. Eleventh-grade students will also be among those taking the extra tests starting May 1992.

"The justification is the kind of information you'll be getting," Kalin said. He said the additional testing time had consensus support from teachers, administrators and school board members.

In place of the California Achievement Test, scrapped last year in the wake of criticism that it was outdated, students in grades 3, 5, and 8 will take an updated version called the California Test of Basic Skills-4.

Students will also take new tests designed to show their mastery of skills and ability to apply them, although those test results will not be used in the MSPP "report card" until November 1992.

An example of a typical math question on the new tests: "You are a developer planning to build a new restaurant in your community. What kind of restaurant do you build (develop a questionnaire and survey plan)?

Graphically illustrate your data. What is the best building design for the lot (provide a scale drawing)?"

Although the hours spent on testing will be increased, the tests will be spread out over eight to 10 weeks, school officials said.

"The kids won't sit for six hours taking tests," said Joan M. Palmer, associate superintendent for curriculum and supervision.

Kalin said the school system needs data from the California Test of Basic Skills to help determine which students will be recommended for gifted and talented programs or for Project Focus, the school system's effort to help students who are at risk of failing in school.

He said the number of hours students spend taking tests will gradually be decreased over the next several years by eliminating some tests.

In the "report cards" to be released Monday, local school systems' performances will be judged by student attendance, dropout and promotion rates and by how many students pass Maryland functional reading, writing, mathematics and citizenship tests.

County school officials learned the results of the evaluation earlier this month. They declined to comment Friday on how well the local school system measured up in the Maryland School Performance Program assessment, except to say they were pleased with the results.

The program issues three levels of ratings: excellent, satisfactory, and "has not yet met standards."

In a preliminary assessment based on tentative state standards released in June, county schools scored "excellent" in promotion and dropout rates, and satisfactory in all other categories except attendance for students in grades 7 through 12, which failed to meet the state standard based on 1988-1989 attendance records.

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