The Maryland State Teachers Association today asked the state Department of Education to throw out the results of this year's statewide performance tests because of numerous flaws, including an "offensive" question with a picture that asks fifth graders to discuss the constitutionality of nude dancing.
"The problems involved in this year's test are so severe that there's no way to score them," MSTA president Jane Stern said. "Some of these items are plainly unrealistic."
At a press conference, Mrs. Stern and Thomas J. Paolino, TC president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said the test contains so many errors that it can't be used to assess what students are learning.
Mrs. Stern said she has received numerous calls from across the state complaining of ambiguous questions, insufficient materials and inappropriate subject matter for students at various grade levels.
Teachers expressed many of the same complaints last May when the test was administered for the first time.
When results were released in March showing that the overwhelming majority of Maryland students had done poorly, the Department of Education downplayed the results.
Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the state's Department of Education, today said that the state would not consider throwing out this year's test and its results.
"For all the negative things heard this morning, we heard a number of positive things from classroom teachers," Mr. Peiffer said. "We've made significant inroads in instruction and testing these past two years, and we're really encouraged to keep moving forward."
Much of the current controversy stems from a First Amendment question posed to fifth grade students. Youngsters are asked to view three pictures. One shows a young woman carrying a noisy boom box. The second a man shouting to a crowd. The third shows a barker inviting people into a building advertising "Nude Dancing." It also contains the silhouette of a woman.
"Last week I started receiving calls from teachers in the [Anne Arundel County] system," Mr. Paolino said. "Initially the concerns were about the way questions were asked.
"But when fifth grade teachers who were previewing the MSPAP tests discovered an item that one might see on the Block but never in an elementary school classroom, they didn't know what to do," he added.
Many teachers called the state's Department of Education and were told to administer the test as they had received it.
Mr. Paolino said teachers were outraged that the question was included in the test and that they were expected to present it to fifth grade students.
"The inclusion of an item depicting a woman on display for public viewing on a fifth grade test was absolutely inappropriate," Mr. Paolino said. "It was the kind of thing that if a teacher had been foolish enough to use in a fifth grade classroom, he or she would probably face disciplinary action."
The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has been heralded because of its efforts to move away from memorization and multiple choice questions. It is designed to measure how well students can use what they learn in school to solve real life problems.
However, some teachers have criticized the state for attempting to implement the test too quickly.
Mrs. Stern said the nude dancing item was just one of many problems. For example, she said, students were asked to measure soil in milliliters when the correct way to measure soil is in grams. Another question asked third graders to compare the pledge of allegiance to prayer in school.
Yet another question asked those same third graders to analyze human, natural, and financial resources of two fictional countries.
"If you could do that in the third grade you probably wouldn't have to go to school anymore," Mrs. Stern said.
James Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, said he too has received many complaints from teachers confused about how to administer tests when many of the experiments called for materials the school system does not have.
"Eighth grade teachers are complaining about science exams that require the use of windows," Mr. Swab said. "Many schools in Howard County are open space schools. We don't have windows and the state department didn't send any windows."