County To Sift Results Of State School Tests

Most In Carroll, State Score At Lower Levels

March 29, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Farmers say you don't get more harvest out of the land by weighing the dirt, remembers Sykesville Middle School Principal Donald Pyles.

But the latest measurement of how students are learning in Carroll and statewide may be more useful than previous standardized tests, hesaid.

The results show most students in Carroll and statewide scoring at the lower levels. Officials have stressed that they expected as much because the test -- which measured skills in reading, writing, mathematics and language usage -- was designed to give them a goal to reach in the year 2000.

This week, principals will sit down with faculty and school improvement teams of staff and parents to sift throughthe results.

"The thing is to decide how this can help the kids,"Pyles said.

Unlike other tests students have taken, no individualscores are available. The test is designed to measure a school's success at teaching children to think out a problem, solve it, and explain how they did so.

The teams at each school will use the results to decide how to go about improving the curriculum and teaching thosehigher-level thinking skills.

"I don't think we have been teaching these kinds of things in classrooms on a regular basis," said CindyCummings, president of the Carroll County Education Association. "Teachers are going to need to have a lot of training in teaching these strategies.

"Of course, one of our training days this year was ourfurlough day," she said. School staff had to take two unpaid furlough days this year. "Everybody wants school improvement, but they don'twant to pay for it."

Superintendent R. Edward Shilling agreed that more money for teacher training will be needed.

"Will enough of it (money) come?" he asked. "I don't know. Are we going to do it anyway? Yes."

Unlike statewide competency test results released last fall, the recently unveiled Criterion Reference Tests give even suburban school districts such as Carroll little to boast about.

In Carroll County, only 2 to 9 percent of students scored in the top two levels, similar to the state averages.

Generally, the figures show that local students are doing both a lot better and a little worse thantheir state counterparts.

The county had significantly fewer students at the lowest level than statewide, which is good, Shilling said.

Fewer students in Carroll scored at the highest levels as well. However, the differences from the state average were very small -- generally less than half a percentage point or about five students, said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum and staff development.

"My first reaction was, 'My gosh, there's nobody at Levels 1 or 2,' " Dunkleberger said. "That's right, and that's the way the test is structured. If we set the standards too low, no one is going anywhere."

The tests are part of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. Previous tests released last November are part of the same program and measured minimum competency.

Carroll County schools ranked third statewide on those tests, but this time around the tests are measuring more sophisticated concepts.

The state has not ranked districts' performances. Dunkleberger said ranking was never the purpose of these tests, but he would guess Carroll's performance would fall in the top half of districts statewide.

One historic criticism about standardized tests has been the temptation for schools to "teach the test," or change what they're doing year-round to raise scores.

But that's exactly what the latest test is meant for, Shilling said.

"We're saying, 'Teach the test,' " he said.

That's because this test focuses on what local districts have agreed is the best wayto teach students, Shilling said. Also, it draws from a list of "outcomes" that districts decided students should reach.

For example, Mount Airy Middle School Principal Larry Barnes said, one outcome is that students should be able to express their ideas through writing.

"Can they not only solve the problem, but can they communicate to you why they made the decisions they made, and now defend that position?" he said.

Barnes said that he doesn't resent having statewide "outcomes" and goals for individual schools to follow.

He said schools have some flexibility about how to teach those ideas, but that there was nothing wrong with a set of agreed-upon goals.

"We're talking about outcomes students need to survive in our society," Barnes said.

"Teaching a test item is never appropriate -- ever," Pyles said. "But teaching the idea behind the item is appropriate."

Robert Moton Elementary Principal Curtis Schnorr said he also was pleased with the test format, and not surprised at the results.

"We're forcing kids to think, to use their cognitive skills rather than just rote memorization of facts," Schnorr said.

In some cases, children were able to work in groups to solve some of the problems. They workedon the test over several days in May 1991.

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