New State Skills Test Confounds Schools

May 15, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Some county principals and teachers say a new eight-day reading, writing and math exam may be more trouble than it's worth.

Tom Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, saidthe Maryland School Performance Assessment test, required of all state school systems, has created nothing but frustration and confusion since students began taking it Monday.

"It has created a great deal of anxiety on the part of those administering and students taking the test," Paolino said. "I was in one fifth-grade class where they had to read a 10-page story on waves andanswer questions in 50 minutes. It took 40 minutes to do the readingportion, let alone try to answer any questions.

"A third-grade class, after reading a story, were to summarize the story and answer which point of view they preferred. We had third-graders asking 'what'sa point of view' and 'what does prefer mean.' "

At Woodside Elementary in Glen Burnie, the school bells are turned off in the morning and custodians are instructed to delay mowing lawns in order to assure silence. Each day, the exams last just over an hour, but students are required to do much more writing than previous standardized exams.

School principal Frank Rocco is among those expressing concern about the testing procedures that do not allow absent students to make up any part of the test they may miss.

In addition, neither Rocco nor teachers are allowed to review directions until it is time for tests to be administered because of state instructions requiring that the tests remain wrapped in the heavy plastic.

"The security procedures do not allow for the test administrators to see the test directions until the moment of testing; therefore, teachers are looking overdirections cold," Rocco said. "I think that may be a factor in student performance."

Students in third and fifth grades at Woodside and eighth-graders in middle school are being tested about four weeks before the end of the school year. But the results are not expected until next February. Next year, students in 11th-grade also will begin to take the exam, which will include social studies and science testslasting 15 hours.

"That would preclude the results being used diagnostically for us to make changes," Rocco said. "If we are going to test again in May, that would only give us a window of about eight weeks.

"Fortunately, we were already doing much of what the test focuses on, including a cooperative learning structure, where students pair for discussions before they write their answers. However, I wouldthink every administrator and teacher would expect to make modifications in teaching strategies as a result of the tests."

He also complained that school temperatures reached 91 degrees in classrooms at the school Monday and questioned whether May is the appropriate time for the exam to be given.

County teachers and administrators aren't alone in their concern about the mandatory test. The Maryland StateTeachers Association, for instance, petitioned unsuccessfully the state Department of Education to cancel the exams.

"The rational wayis to establish the curriculum first and then design the tests to reflect the new curriculum, but the state board -- apparently for political reasons, has rushed into testing before changing textbooks or retraining teachers to deliver the new curriculum," said association president Jane R. Stern.

But Dennis Younger, the county's executive director of curriculum, defended the new exam. His department was responsible for training administrators and teachers on test preparation.

"I do understand the explicit directions regarding the security of the test," Younger said. "But that's to be anticipated.

"Our people tried to make sure all students have all the necessary materialsincluding dictionaries, compasses and rulers. In that sense we did our job. We also designed a prototype that could be used for teacher training."

But Younger acknowledged that delays in obtaining test results may be a problem. Test results eventually will be reported on the state reports on all schools issued each November.

"The bottom-line is the value of the test and the degree it allows us to make good instructional decisions," Younger said.

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