Anxious Educators Await New Md. Tests

Students Must Use Knowledge To Solve Problems

December 19, 1990|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER - Carroll educators are likely to feel some anxiety this spring when the county's third- , fifth- and eighth-graders sit down to take tough new tests, which are still being developed by state education officials.

The Maryland Criterion-Referenced Tests, part of state Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling's school reform package, will replace the multiple-choice California Achievement Test as the barometer of learning in the classrooms of the state's 24 school systems.

"It's certainly a major change in direction," said Edwin L. Davis, Carroll's director of pupil services/special programs. "Any time you go from the known to the unknown, there is some anxiousness and some anticipation."

The CAT, in use in Maryland since 1980, has been criticized for encouraging teachers to teach very narrow skills that have allowed students to perform well on the test. Critics contend that student performance doesn't show whether they can use the skills in real life.

The new tests, though, will determine whether students can apply learned skills to real life. The tests will force youngsters to use those skills to solve a problem, developing their own answers instead of choosing from a list.

"The tests will be performance- and not knowledge-based," Davis said.

"Rather than having multiple-choice answers, students will be asked to complete a problem. Their results will be based on how well they applied knowledge and solved problems."

Unlike the CAT, which compared Maryland scores with others across the nation, the new state tests, in mathematics, writing and reading, will compare only Maryland students.

"This test will be much more challenging for students," said Gary E.

Dunkleberger, Carroll's director of curriculum/staff development. "As a school system, we really believe this one will be more difficult for the system to do well in."

The tests will be given to students in May. Social studies and science will be added to the tests in May 1992. Eleventh-graders will be tested in all five areas in 1992.

The criterion-referenced tests -- they ask questions about specific material that Maryland students are supposed to be learning -- will be an added component to the Maryland School Performance Program. Carroll attained the second-highest academic score -- based on the math, writing, reading and citizenship scores of the state's ninth-graders -- in Maryland when the first results of that program were released last month.

While Carroll educators were pleased with those results, they are concerned about how well the students will fare on the new tests.

"This test represents a real departure from any type of testing that has occurred in the past," Dunkleberger said.

Educators, he added, have been reviewing the county curriculum to make sure there are correlations between the new tests and the lessons students are learning in classrooms. But because the tests have not been completed, that task is difficult.

"We want to be sure to fill any gaps," Dunkleberger said. "But these tests are not finalized yet. We will meet with teachers when the tests are finalized."

One of the things teachers will need to do, he said, is provide youngsters with the opportunity to gain exposure to some of the real-life problems that may be on the tests.

Jeanne McDearmon, chair of the reading department at Sykesville Middle School, said teachers there will be meeting after the first of the year in their subject areas to study some of these issues. Teachers still are waiting to find out what the test contains, she said.

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