County Schools To Try To Make Testing Process Less Taxing

April 05, 1992|By Michael K. Burns | Michael K. Burns,Staff writer

The state's report card on the performance of Harford schools is getting longer, with the addition of two new tests given to pre-secondary students last spring, and some educators are raising the question whether children are being over-tested.

"There was a great concern about that last year. There was an inordinate amount of time set aside for testing," said Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County teachers union. "We hope that won't be the case again."

But Harford school administrators say they are bound to follow the state requirements for testing students.

"We have to test (pupils) according to the state requirements. We don't have any say," explained Albert Seymour, a schools spokesman.

School board member Ronald Eaton said he has heard parent complaints about the testing and that Harford would "try to make adjustments" to make the process less taxing on pupils and teachers.

Two changes will be in place when Harford students take the new tests again this spring.

Only 250 Harford third-graders will take the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills this month. Nearly 2,500 third-graders took it last year. These multiple-choice tests measure student skills in reading, language and mathematics and compare results to national averages.

In another change, students will spend only five days taking the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests this May, down from the nine days used last year.

The Maryland-designed tests in reading, writing, language usage and math require written application of skills and gauge performance against pre-set standards rather than against average scores of all test-takers.

Harford students generally performed betterthan statewide averages on the performance assessment tests, given to all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in Maryland last May.

The results of those tests were released March 26 and revised last week as a result of new calculations by the Maryland State Department of Education.

The revised figures show that Harford students did slightly better, compared to their peers in the state, than originally reported.

The major change for Harford was that the percentage of eighth-graders placing in the two highest proficiency levels was 10.8, exceeding the state average of 9.5 percent. The original figures showedeighth-graders falling below the state average.

Few pupils in Harford or statewide placed in the two highest levels of the five-level test, an expected result since this initial test will be used to shape improvements in schooling content and techniques.

The statewide goal for the year 2000 is that all students perform at level three orhigher on these tests.

More than 6,000 Harford students took the state's performance tests, which are criterion-based, requiring students to apply their skills to solutions of "real-world" situations.

It is not a multiple-choice test and requires writing and expressionof thought in four areas: reading, writing, language arts and mathematics. Students are graded on their test performance against pre-set levels, not on how they rank according to the average test-taker.

On the basic skills test, also given for the first time last spring, Harford pupils in grades three, five and eight scored well above the national averages, and significantly above the Maryland average.

The nearly 3,000 Harford students that took those tests averaged near the 60th percentile, against the national average of the 50th percentile. In Maryland, the average percentile was about 52.

The Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, which replaces the California Achievement Tests, is a standardized multiple-choice test that measures understanding and skills in reading, language, and mathematics. Its norms, or standards, are based on performances of 300,000 randomly selected U.S. students in 1988.

The test was given last April to all Harfordthird-graders, plus 250 students randomly selected from each of the fifth- and eighth-grade classes. Harford was one of the few counties to test all third-grade pupils; most selected only 250 pupils from each of the three grades.

In Harford County, third-graders ranked atthe 65th percentile in reading, 59th in language and 62nd in mathematics. Fifth-graders scored at the 58th percentile in reading, 58th percentile in language and 61st in math. And eighth-graders scored at the 64th percentile in reading, 58th in language and 53rd in math.

Because the Basic Skills tests measure students by predetermined national standards reflecting national curricula rather than Maryland curricula, educators say this test is not as useful for pointing out ways to improve schooling in this state. Instead, they note, the performance test measures students against specific standards set for Maryland schools.

But the Basic Skills test scores show how Maryland students stack up against students in other parts of the nation, as longas the standards remain valid.

The thick, red-cover report card on Maryland schools is released in November. In addition to showing each school's test results, it lists classroom achievements, attendanceand dropout rates, and other statistics on school population and resources.

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