Emphasis On Citizenship Test Harmful, Teachers Say

January 30, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Teachers bribe them with pizza parties, perform contrived rap songs and constantly drill them on knowledge they'll need to pass the Maryland Functional Skills exams required by the state.

But some teachers, particularly those responsible for administering the citizenship test, say pressure from the Board of Education to make sure students pass may be hampering overall classroom instruction.

Such emphasis on passing the exam the first time, teachers complain, shifts the emphasis from teaching the subject to teaching the test. At the same time, they say, subjects not related directly to the exam are given short shrift.

"It's completely changed our curriculum," Annapolis High history teacher Joseph K. Kirby said. "We were told to teach toward the test. That's not something we take lightly."

This year, for the first time, individual school test scores will bereleased along with information on absentee, dropout and pass-fail rates.

"At first we felt that we had a very liberal hand at teaching what we wanted," Kirby said. "It seems now the State of Maryland orAnne Arundel County is gearing more toward the test, and that creates a lot of pressure. I'm concerned about how they feel about the numbers."

School officials say the curriculum will be evaluated to tryto alleviate disruptions from courses not related to the test. A newcourse may be created designed specifically for the citizenship exam.

Statewide scores from the math and reading functional exams given in the fall will be distributed within the next two weeks and the results of the citizenship and writing tests will come in the spring.

With three months of preparation at Annapolis Senior, 14-year-old LaQuona Surgeon hopes the cramming pays off. She admits, however, that her preparation was largely limited to the classroom and a three-way conference call the night before the exam.

"I hope I passed because I don't want to have to take it again," Surgeon said. But even ifshe didn't, she knows she can try, try again.

On average, county students have at least 20 tries to pass the exam before it becomes a critical matter that can prevent them from graduating. Despite the high number of students who do not pass on the first try -- about 1,500for the citizenship test -- fewer than 10 county students a year do not graduate because of it.

That is what bothers teachers like Kirby, who feels pressured to make sure students pass on the first try because of the new state reporting procedures.

Pressure for a good showing has forced teachers to devise creative methods of enticing students to try harder the first time.

Some students skip school or do not take the test seriously, believing that graduation is not an immediate concern.

At Annapolis High, American government teacher Phil Greenfield brought in a fresh batch of doughnuts to encourage students to have a good attitude as they begin the two-hour exams at 7:30 a.m. Greenfield's original rap lyrics about citizenship -- printed last month in the Anne Arundel County Sun -- were yet another method to try to ease the pressure and make lessons more fun.

For Kirby, daily drills and the promise of a pizza party if his class overwhelmingly passes form his security blanket. But he said more is needed to provide incentives for students to pass on the first try.

Adam Milam, coordinator of testing and evaluation, said he is not enthusiastic about the state's reporting procedure and cautions that all school information be considered.

"The appropriate way to look at this isto take all the pieces and put it together," Milam said. "Even with that, I don't know that it will give parents or the public a total picture. It will give a ballpark figure at best."

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