Over the last 15 years, education reform has been closely harnessed to testing. In the late 1970s, a number of states, including Maryland, adopted minimum competency tests tied to high school graduation. Now, states -- again including Maryland -- are developing more rigorous tests to see what students know at various grade levels.
As a key component of reform, testing triggers skepticism among educators. Using a better thermometer, they say, does nothing to cure the disease. Students and school systems cannot be frightened or embarrassed into performing better, skeptics say; schools need more resources.
But even before the first Maryland student puts pencil to paper -- the tests begin today in grades three, five and eight -- the new program has shown results. Baltimore City schools put out a rush order for 25,000 pocket calculators (recommended, not required, for the test) and assorted other tools: rulers, protractors and dictionaries.