Eighth-graders are testing some new academic waters Eighth-graders next in line for new state exams

May 14, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff Monica Norton and Meredith Schlow contributed to this story.

Eighth-graders today were to begin taking the new state tests intended to measure how they apply the facts they learn in the classroom.

Yesterday, thousands of third- and fifth-graders began eight days of testing, and education officials in Baltimore and the surrounding counties reported few problems.

In all, officials expect more than 160,000 students across the state to take the tests this week and next.

The tests cover reading, writing, language usage and mathematics.

The new statewide testing program is a key part of the state's long-range push to increase school performance.

Developed especially for Maryland at a cost of more than $1 million, the tests use a far different format from traditional, standardized, multiple-choice tests.

For example, students may be required to write short essays or create graphs and tables in answering certain questions.

Teachers and some administrators around the state had been apprehensive about the new tests. Last week, the Maryland State Teachers Association was rebuffed by state officials in its request for a delay in the program.

"There were some isolated problems with distribution of materials, but certainly far fewer problems than we'd expected," said Steven Ferrara, a testing official with the state Department of Education.

Yesterday's testing generally went well in Baltimore, where an estimated 27,000 students are expected to take the exams, according to Douglas J. Neilson, spokesman for the city schools.

He noted, however, that some of the estimated $211,352 in classroom materials that had recently been ordered for the tests -- particularly protractors and metric rulers -- came in at the last minute.

Officials from the school administration staff, including members the superintendent's cabinet, fanned out to middle schools yesterday to make sure materials were in place for today's eighth-grade math tests, said Neilson.

Among teachers, "the first impression that I got was kind of a sigh of relief," said Robert Marino, principal of Ashburton Elementary School in Baltimore. "It tests the very things that we teach."

At Marino's 300-pupil school, tests were given to third- and fifth-graders and to fourth-graders on a pilot basis. Marino reported some disruption in the school's normal schedule because of the test.

Some students said they were initially nervous about the tests, but quickly adjusted to the different format.

"When you have other tests, they don't usually have such long stories," said Warren Land, a third grader, referring to the six-page story in yesterday's test. "It was fun and hard at the same time, because I got to do a lot of things. I found new words in the story."

But another third-grader, Jwan Kelly, said he prefers the traditional, multiple-choice tests "because the only thing you have to do is to fill in the bubbles to find the answer."

In Baltimore County, testing went smoothly, according to school spokesman Richard E. Bavaria.

"One teacher said that the test was just like an instructional period," said Bavaria.

Adam Milam, coordinator of testing for the Anne Arundel County school system, meanwhile, said he was "pretty pleased with the few schools I had an opportunity to visit. . . ."

He cited some scattered problems, including insufficient instruction manuals at some schools, and lack of air conditioning on a hot day.

In Carroll County, "the kids seemed very engaged and committed to the instructional tasks," said Allan Butler, supervisor of assessments. He had heard of no problems on the first day of testing.

The only major problem in Howard County came at Laurel Woods Elementary School, which was shut down because of a power failure yesterday and will begin testing today, said Leslie Walker-Barnick, testing supervisor.

"The teachers are feeling a lot better now that they've seen it," she said.

In Harford County, Al Seymour, a spokesman for the Harford County School system, also said he had received no report of problems with the tests.

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