A proposed revision to the Maryland Functional tests would require massive curriculum restructuring as well as significant additional costs for new textbooks, say local school officials critical of the plan.
The proposal, suggested by the state board of education, would test students in the seventh grade instead of the tenth, when studentstraditionally have taken the test.
A state graduation requirement for years, the test measures basicskills students should have mastered by the eighth grade.
"With the fiscal crisis that all of the counties are dealing with, I can't imagine how this can be done now," said Joan Palmer, associate superintendent for curriculum and staff development with the county school system.
Some local high school principals strongly favor the state board's proposal, saying it would ensure that students possess the minimum educational skills before entering high school.
"I would like to know that every ninth-grader entering the building has mastered the basic skills in math, reading and writing," said Oakland Mills High School principal David Bruzga.
"It would help if that testing had been done already and would give educators more time to assess deficient skills," Bruzga said.
But Palmer said the plan would be toocostly.
"Educationally, I just don't think this is an appropriatething to do unless they change the tests themselves," Palmer said.
Much of the material covered in the tests is not taught in schools until the eighth grade. Citizenship test material is not taught untilthe tenth grade, Palmer said.
To administer the tests in the seventh grade, the county school system would have to spend $96,000 for new textbooks, Palmer said, and a minimum of $60,000 to begin revisingthe curriculum.
Reducing the number of tests that high school students have to take is an appealing idea, said Atholton principal Scott Pfeifer, but curriculum changes must be considered.
"Obviously we've got to teach kids the material before they get to the point of taking tests," he said.
"It's worth exploring and I think it has some positive possibilities, but it raises a lot of questions."
Students in Howard County take the math, reading and writing tests in ninth grade and the citizenship test in the tenth grade.
By taking the tests earlier, state school officials say that schools can completeminimum requirements and focus on preparing for more difficult tests.
Many students in the county already pass the practice Maryland Functional Tests given in the seventh and eighth grades, said Howard High School principal Eugene Streagle.
Although many middle school students do pass the practice tests, Jim DeGeorge, principal of Ellicott Mills Middle School, doesn't support the idea of giving the actual tests to seventh-graders.
"Kids at the middle school level are very often not academically mature enough to handle some of the content," DeGeorge said.
"I think the emphasis should be on assisting kids and measuring whether or not kids can use critical thinking skillsjust as much as whether they know content," DeGeorge said.