County And State Share Goals For Molding Students

Md.'s New Skills Tests To Measure Reasoning

May 12, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

Carroll students still will use sharpened No. 2 pencils when they sit down this week to take the state's new and experimental education assessment tests.

But, like their peers across Maryland, they won'tbe filling in multiple-choice answers.

Instead, the state's third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students will use their thinking skills -- not to mention calculators and rulers -- to answer questions in math, reading, writing and language usage.

For the most part, the questions are open-ended and "as much as possible will be relevant to their grade level," said Thomas Rowan, a math specialist for the Montgomery County school system who helped develop the tests.

A key part of the Maryland School Performance Program, tests are given over eight days beginning tomorrow. The tests are intended to assess how well students apply the knowledge and skillsthey have been taught.

"The tests will give us a whole lot more information about what students understand than multiple-choice tests do," said Brian L. Lockard, Carroll's assistant superintendent of instruction.

About 4,500 Carroll students will take the tests.

They may be required to write essays, make calculations, make graphs andperform other tasks that require materials not normally used in traditional paper-and-pencil tests. Calculators, for instance, are recommended for all three grades taking the tests.

A sample question in the eighth-grade math test asks students to survey classmates to findout what kind of pizza, with one topping, they enjoy the most. Students are then instructed to draw a bar graph, compute the average price of pizza with two toppings and determine how much pizza to order for a party with 10 classmates.

Lockard said Carroll spent about $20,000 for calculators, rulers and other materials for students to use during testing. The materials, he said, will be used throughout the year.

Maryland educators are not testing students so much as they are testing school districts, to find out how school districts are measuring up in the Maryland School Performance Program.

"Students will generate their own responses," said Steve Ferrara of the Maryland State Department of Education. "But the focus is on schools and school districts, rather than on individual students."

School districtsare suppose to meet new state standards in four academic areas -- reading, writing, language usage and mathematics -- to be rated satisfactory or excellent. These tests will determine how districts score inNovember 1992.

Individual district results will not be available until next spring.Gary E. Dunkleberger, Carroll's director of curriculum and staff development, said that's because the tests are new and the scoring system is extensive and time-consuming.

Students will be randomly grouped to take the tests.

"Students will not be in their own classrooms," Dunkleberger said. "Scores won't be traced to individual classrooms or teachers. That was causing teachers some worry."

Lockard said Carroll teachers are working with a consortium of teachers from 11 counties to develop a bank of materials for students to use to practice for the tests. The materials, however, will be integrated into the curriculum for use year-round.

One of the areasof concern on the tests, he said, is student response to reading questions. Students who give brief answers will not score as high as those who expound their answers.

Students, Lockard said, may need to learn to respond to questions more fully.

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