Baltimore schools are buying thousands of calculators, rulers, protractors, compasses and other materials -- at an estimated cost of $211,352.43 -- to stock classrooms for a new battery of state tests that start May 13.
Some suburban counties are making similar purchases in preparation for the tests, which anxiously are awaited by teachers and administrators alike.
The materials are required or recommended for the tests, which are far different in format from the multiple-choice tests students usually take.
The new tests, to be given statewide to public school students in grades three, five and eight over an eight-day period, are a key part of the Maryland School Performance Program. They are intended to assess how well students apply the knowledge and skills they have been taught.
In the course of taking the tests, students may be required to write essays, make calculations, make graphs and perform other tasks that require materials not normally used in traditional paper-and-pencil tests.
For example, calculators are recommended for all three grades taking the tests, although for some parts of the test, third graders are supposed to work without calculators.
Baltimore got its final list of "tools" needed for the test on April 12, and did a system-wide inventory for those items, said Norman J. Walsh, the city's associate superintendent overseeing the tests.
The city decided to buy about 25,000 calculators, which are recommended, but not required, for the mathematics portion of the test.
"We decided that we'd better make sure our students had all the tools, including the calculators," said Walsh.
But, because the current school budget was drawn up before the state decided to require the new tests, the school system had no money set aside to buy test materials, Walsh said.
"We've had to utilize instructional materials money that probably would have gone for something else in order to buy this," said Walsh.
But he added that calculators, rulers, protractors and other items can be used throughout the year and will be available for next year's test.
"It's not money that is badly spent," said Walsh.
The exact cost of all those materials will depend on the prices negotiated in contracts hammered out by the city's Bureau of Purchases.
The city is expediting its purchasing process to get all the materials into the schools by May 13, the first day of the test, according to Ella H. Pierce, city purchasing agent.
Already, the city has received its shipment of 25,000 pocket calculators, purchased at a cost of $85,000 from a local distributor.
Pierce said the city may be able to provide other materials out of existing stock.
But the city still is in the process of awarding contracts for other items, despite a deadline of next Wednesday for purchasing the materials.
"We just got the request last Thursday," said Pierce, who added that 24 purchasing agents are working on parts of the procurement. "It's an urgency."
In Carroll County, the school department spent $20,000 on classroom materials that will be used in the tests, including 1,600 calculators and 300 dictionaries. Other materials included scissors, tape, compasses, rulers and protractors.
Baltimore County spent between $16,000 and $18,000 for 4,260 calculators, according to L. Carey Bolster, the county's coordinator of mathematics. Individual schools also will have to buy rulers, compasses and protractors, he said.
The city school system is buying the following classroom materials in preparation for new statewide tests that start May 13:
*Pocket calculators 24,786
*Rulers with decimal gradations 18,756
*Compasses with pencils 11,387
*Plastic protractors 10,492
*Scissors 10,448 pair
*Colored pencil sets 6,930
*No. 2 pencils 4,707 dozen
*Cellulose tape 927 rolls
*Blank newsprint 238 reams
*Ruled writing paper 147 packages
*Two-sided graph paper 55 packages