Advocates, teachers not surprised by poor test scores of city students Some blame lack of books and low interest in reading

November 13, 1997|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The reaction to the poor performance of the city's elementary school students on standardized tests was nearly the same from all quarters yesterday: So what? We already knew this.

"They were obviously very disturbing, but not very surprising," .. said Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which filed one of three lawsuits that prompted state legislation aimed at reforming the school system. "It is clear by whatever measure that the children in Baltimore City are doing very poorly compared to children in other districts."

Educators, advocates and a parent said that the more interesting debate will come when the scores are more thoroughly analyzed and used to make decisions about where )) money is to be spent and how instruction should change.

This week, the city schools released the results of the California Diagnostic tests, given at every elementary school in the system. In reading, first-graders scored a few months behind the national average. But fifth-graders scored nearly a year and a half behind their peers nationwide.

In math, the scores showed city fifth-graders a year behind their peers nationwide.

Special education students' scores were comparable to those of students in regular classes.

The tests, which cost $1 million to administer, were given two months ago and will be used as a baseline against which progress in the reform of the system can be charted.

"I am not at all surprised," said Peter French, a fifth-grade teacher at John Ruhrah Elementary School. "I think most teachers would say we didn't need this test. We know our kids are not reading on level."

Lillie Covert-Freeman, a parent of two city students and the president of Friends for Education, a parent advocacy group, said the scores did not tell her much she didn't already know about the general situation. "These children have been tested so much. I think we have an incredible amount of data that says the schools need improvement," she said.

But the individual scores will be valuable to parents, she said, who will get some sense of how their children compare with those around the nation. "If my child is not doing well, I will be very alarmed," she said.

Some teachers and parents said the absence of books inside and outside school is partly to blame for the poor reading scores.

While French contends teachers should be held accountable for student performance, he said the low scores in reading are in part a result of a lack of interest in reading at home. "This is a city filled with people who don't value reading," he said. "A large percentage of those kids do not go home and see books in their house or read with their parents. They sit down with their parents and watch television."

French said he believes the answer to better reading could be found in part in smaller class sizes. If that is not possible, he said, teachers need to find a way to give children individual attention.

Books are lacking, said Covert-Freeman. "It seems that these scores are consistent with children who don't have textbooks."

Several sources explained the special education scores by saying they believe many students in those classes are misclassified.

"I think the identification of special education students is flawed, and I think the education provided them is not significantly different," said Robert C. Embry Jr., head of the Abell Foundation. "The overwhelming issue is, how do you get children reading so that they are not referred to special education?"

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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