A state task force said yesterday that math, science and technology education is in crisis in Maryland and proposed assessing teachers' knowledge -- probably through testing -- to identify their weaknesses.
The Task Force on Mathematics, Science and Technology, appointed by the state Board of Education in September, also suggested strengthening the teachers' background in those subjects and increasing the time that students spend learning science in elementary school.
"We need to know what the teachers know right now," said task force chairman Freeman A. Hrabowski, executive vice president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The assessment, which Dr. Hrabowski said would "ideally [be] some kind of test," would be accompanied by a plan to ensure that mathematics, science and technology teachers are adequately prepared.
The recommendations were part of the task force report presented to the state Board of Education yesterday. Proposals of the group of educators and experts range from establishing a statewide laboratory where teachers would be exposed to the latest technology to launching a public relations campaign to raise awareness of the importance of science and technology in the state. The group wants more money for teacher training and for equipment for schools.
State schools Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling said he would respond with concrete proposals to the board in May. Those would include suggestions for teacher assessment that could involve a test, self-assessment or observation of classroom performance, Dr. Shilling said. Such methods should be used only as a "diagnostic tool" to help provide needed training, he said.
The task force's suggestions for tougher recertification standards will be included in a current review of recertification requirements for all teachers, he said.
Dr. Shilling, whose proposal for year-round schools has been shelved for lack of money, said he also expects to propose alternatives for lengthening classroom time this summer.
"I think it is becoming crystal clear that we simply cannot get all done that we need to get done in the time that we have," he said.
Jane R. Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, criticized the proposals for assessing teachers and toughening recertification requirements.
"This is just another anti-teacher harassment device," she said. "All of a sudden everybody has to take the test. At first they say this is just to assess your skills, but then they say that anybody who can't pass this test after three years has to leave."
The task force report said that the principal problem of math, science and technology education has to do with the quality of teaching -- which too often emphasizes rote learning instead of problem-solving and hands-on use of technology.
Some problems identified by the report: Too few Maryland students pursue careers in science and technology; materials and equipment for such courses are in short supply; there is a shortage of high school math and science teachers; most elementary school teachers and many middle school teachers have an inadequate background in science and math, and teachers in the state are not required to take courses in those areas to maintain their certification.
"Maryland, like the rest of the nation, is in a crisis -- it is," said Dr. Hrabowski, citing National Science Foundation statistics that in 10 years the United States will have a 500,000 shortfall of scientists and engineers.