Latest tests are useless, teachers say State officials defend them, picture of nude bar and all

May 22, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer Staff writers Donna E. Boller, Alan J. Craver, Anne Haddad and Meredith Schlow contributed to this article.

The Maryland State Teachers Association said yesterday that the state's latest effort to measure youngsters' performance in school is so flawed and full of errors that the results should be thrown out.

Some of the questions -- including one for fifth-graders that involved a picture of a nude bar -- are downright offensive, the teachers argued.

But state officials defended the innovative testing program, which is designed to measure how well children apply what they've learned in school to real-life problems.

While they promised to look at the teachers' complaints, the officials said they would be unlikely to discard the results of the exams, which children in third, fifth and eighth grades are finishing now.

"The problems involved in this year's test are so severe that there's no way to score them," MSTA president Jane Stern said at a news conference in Annapolis.

She said she had received numerous calls from across the state complaining of ambiguous questions, insufficient materials and inappropriate subject matter for students at various grade levels.

Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said the test itself contains so many errors that it can't be used to assess what students are learning.

Ron Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the state will look into the complaints but defended the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The program spreads 8 3/4 hours of testing over a week of school. Most schools have just finished this year's exams.

"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."

While teachers and administrators elsewhere in the metropolitan area expressed varying degrees of concern about the testing program, many were concerned about a question that gives fifth-graders a chance to discuss the constitutionality of nude dancing.

Youngsters read a few sentences about the First Amendment. Then they're asked to view three pictures. One shows a young woman carrying a boom box. The second shows 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. Children get to pick the picture they'll write about.

"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."

Many teachers called the Department of Educa-tion and were told to administer the test as they had received it.

Mr. Peiffer defended the illustration, saying many students simply overlooked the picture and chose to work with the two alternative drawings.

However, 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."

Ed Veit, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, agreed with the association's complaints, saying that the question and picture contradict Baltimore County's Values in Education program.

"I'm not a prude, but I'd be interested to know if anyone from the state department took this test," Mr Veit said.

Mr. Peiffer said the test had been "evaluated and reviewed" by resource and classroom teachers as well as central office supervisors. But, during the press conference, Mrs. Stern said -- one of the main problems with the test is that it was designed by administrators who have little contact with students.

In Baltimore City, Linda Prudente, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she was unaware of any specific complaints about the test. She said teachers' and administrators' concerns have been about how the state plans to

evaluate the test, and how the evaluations will be used.

"Eventually these tests will be used to see if the schools are doing their job," she said. "Unless you make some changes in the disparity of funds [between the city and suburban counties], the test is meaningless."

The test program was piloted in the state's 24 school systems for the first time last May. It received national attention because it tried to move away from memorization and multiple-choice questions in favor of measuring how well students perform real-life activities.

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