Assailing school testing

June 23, 1992

There is little doubt that Anne Arundel County school officials are frustrated by the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which is designed to test students' cognitive skills in a variety of subjects at three grade levels. School Board President Jo Ann Tollenger made her feelings very clear earlier this month.

"At some point, if they don't fix it, tell them we're not going to take it," Ms. Tollenger said. "We're not going to spend the money, we're not going to spend the classroom hours on a test that is this flawed."

We hope that Ms. Tollenger's remarks overstate her position. Such a threat, if followed through, would undoubtedly harm Anne Arundel County far more than the state education department. After all, what would people say about a county that rejects tests aimed at holding teachers and students to high standards in order to encourage school reform?

State education officials already have begun to review the tests to determine if any of the questions are unfair or inappropriate, and scoring of tests this summer should reflect any deletions. Meanwhile, under the direction of state School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, officials are meeting with the Maryland State Teachers Association to consider other concerns that have developed.

Ms. Grasmick has already shown a willingness to be flexible. Last year, after the test was first administered, she acceded to teachers' concerns and reduced the number of test days from nine to five.

The state school chief is in a difficult position. She must balance the need for strong tests that examine thinking skills with the fears of teachers that the tests will ultimately be used to penalize them. Threats such as Ms. Tollenger's, however, are of little help in fine-tuning the tests. Foot-stomping theatrics may play well to the Anne Arundel teachers union, but they don't help build better schools.

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