Standardized Tests Present Problems To Carroll Students

Despite Causing Stress, State Tests Go Smoothly

May 29, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

The state's new criterion reference exams -- designed to test higherthinking skills among third- , fifth- and eighth-grade students -- are over.

And although the results won't be known for months, Carroll educators, like others across Maryland, are evaluating how teachers and students handled the tests, given over a nine-day period earlier this month.

"I have real positive feelings about the written part," said Diane Hughes, third-grade team leader at Eldersburg Elementary School. "Our language arts curriculum has prepared them well for it. I think wedid as well as expected, but I think the test expected a lot out of 8- and 9-year-olds."

She said students were asked to write for long periods of time -- 75 minutes some days -- and work out math problems that involved a lot of reading and turning of pages -- something most third-graders aren't used to.

"I think it has been a very stressful time," Hughes said.

A key part of the Maryland School Performance Program, the tests, intended to assess how well students apply the knowledge and skills they have been taught, came on the heels of the nationwide California Achievement Test.

Teachers said having students take both tests in May is too much for youngsters.

RichardL. Hanson, Eldersburg Elementary principal, said school districts need to choose one test or the other. Although he said he didn't doubt the validity of the new state tests, he said the CAT offered parents comparisons on how their children are faring against others across the country.

Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary schools, said that in addition to causing anxiety among students, teachers felt stress because they were not allowed to look at the instructions until the day of the exams.

"Teachers being people who depend on thoroughplanning, they felt hamstrung going into that," McDowell said. "It was a high level of concern."

Maureen A. Dincher, president of the Carroll County Education Association, which represents about 1,300 teachers, expressed similar concerns.

"Some teachers felt they didn't know what was coming," she said. "They felt they were walking blindly into the tests."

Even so, educators said testing generally wentsmoothly.

"We've been pleasantly surprised at how testing went," said Superintendent R. Edward Shilling. "I've heard concerns, but most of the comments have been about the appropriateness of the test andhow it reflected more closely what has been happening instructionally."

Third-graders will have to get used to the new testing procedures, educators said.

The tests, for example, required children to be placed in random groups. Dorothy D. Mangle, director of elementaryschools, said random grouping may have been difficult for third-graders who can be "environmentally sensitive."

In addition, she said "directions were on many occasions more complex than the task children were asked to do." Many test exercises had several different steps and asked children to return to preceding pages.

"The tests asked students to do things we typically don't ask of youngsters," Mangle said. "They usually work from an open text in front of them. Our children have engaged in authentic reading and writing, and some of test didn't come across that way."

For example, one question asked students to write a letter to an adult, but it didn't state what adult. Inwriting letters, Carroll students write to actual people, such as guest readers.

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