Maryland's school superintendents, convinced they'll be unfairly pilloried next year when the results of a tough new state test are released, have come up with a novel solution: keep the test scores secret.
Representatives of the Public School Superintendents' Association of Maryland told the State Board of Education yesterday that they're worried their schools will be the subject of "unfair criticism" from the news media because of the results of a test that has never before been administered on a large scale. They asked the board to consider delaying the publication of test scores for a year to avoid crushing teacher morale and give the state a chance to make sure the so-called criterion-referenced test, the centerpiece of Maryland's education reform package, is sound. The tests will be administered to Maryland third-, fifth- and eighth-graders for the first time this May.
"Why do we want to do this to our teachers?" said John H. Bloom, superintendent of Charles County.
"Why not back off and make this a no-fault administration of the test? When you raise the stakes by reporting it out . . . you raise the anxiety."
The concept of keeping the test scores secret received short shrift from board members. The board's principal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Valerie V. Cloutier, said it would be illegal to hold back information on test scores. The superintendents suggested keeping the information out of the annual state "report card" due out in February to avoid comparisons they said would be unfair.
Board members, sympathetic to school chiefs' complaints about overwhelmed teachers and budget constraints that are hurting schools' attempts to prepare for the tests, said they will consider that suggestion.
"The question boils down to, do we wait for you to come ask for the test results, or do we publish them in our performance report and disseminate them?" said Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling. Either way, he said, the results will be public information.
Board members will also consider an alternative suggested by board member Donald P. Hutchinson: to do limited sample testing that would forestall the kind of district-by-district comparisons that school systems dread while giving the state a chance to test the test.
"This test is such a new test that its implementation maybe should be done on a trial basis first," said board President Robert C. Embry Jr.
Dr. Shilling said that if problems surfaced during or after the administration of the test, the state would discard the first-year data, which it intends to use as a baseline for measuring progress under the state's education reform package.
Board member Elmer B. Kaelin said low scores on the new test may be a sign of problems instead of a function of students' first encounter with a radically new test.
"Maybe this represents the true state of American education and that's where we have to start and take our lumps," he said.