Second-graders prepare for test that will rank them nationally Maryland is using CTBS for second time

March 20, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Eight-year-old Samantha Hall has a plan for tackling the first big exam of her academic career, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, a standardized national exam thousands of Marylanders in the second, fourth and sixth grades are taking this month, most for the first time.

Samantha, a second-grader who goes to Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena, says she will start test day with a cup of coffee, three chocolate chip cookies and one ginger cookie. Once in school, she will take three deep breaths, then get out her pencil.

"I know it's going to be fun," she said, "because some of it is easy work, and some of it is hard work."

Teachers at Samantha's school, like their counterparts around the state, have been been preparing second-graders to sit still for 1 1/2 hours a day for four consecutive mornings to take the test. Most states have administered the test for years. Maryland is using it this month for the second time.

Many fourth-graders are test veterans after taking the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program as third-graders. But second-graders know little about the CTBS, which is intended to show their degree of mastery of information deemed appropriate to the curriculum of their grade. The MSPAP shows how a grade, school, or county school system is doing as a whole.

"We had the MSPAP, but we didn't have a way of looking at how Maryland students were doing compared to [students] nationally," said Adam Milam, coordinator of testing in Anne Arundel. "The CTBS does fill that void."

The school system paid McGraw-Hill, which publishes the test, $138,000 to use it. Second-graders will be told to fill in bubbles on answer sheets in response to questions about the use of "are" and "is," whether to use a capital letter and a period, how to measure time, identify a vowel and a consonant, read simple maps and notice patterns of shapes.

"Second-graders have never taken a test like this before," said Harry Sharkey, Sunset's principal. "The important thing is to treat it as another school activity."

But it's more serious than the activities second-graders are used to, and the stakes are high.

A teacher giving a student an answer can be fired. The teachers may read aloud the explicit instructions on taking the test only once. Before the test, they give students a 40-minute practice with a 21-page instruction booklet that teachers read to the students, without changing anything (switching the word "aloud" "out loud" is banned, for example). Teachers must set a five-minute timer for a reading comprehension portion of the test. If students come in late, they must stay in the office until the test is over.

If a student has to go to the bathroom, the whole class must wait.

After the test and after Maryland students are ranked against their classmates and students around the country, class parties will be held to celebrate.

Samantha and her classmates recently demonstrated to reading teacher Judy McCorkill that they are ready for the test, which they will take next week. Almost all 20 students said they were not scared, and a few said they were looking forward to the test. All except 8-year-old Robert Tormollan, who said, "I think the test will be hard."

McCorkill reassured him that his test grades will not show up on his report card.

"We need to find out what you learned and what we need to teach you," she explained as she stood in front of the class.

"Do you know where the answers are?" she asked with an expectant smile.

"In your brain," one boy called back.

"Do you need to be scared?"

"No," they responded.

"What are you going to do during the test?"

"Take three deep breaths," Amber Garland said.

"What are you going to do after the test?"

At first there was silence, then Mark Bois' hand shot up, and he said, "Give yourself a pat on the back."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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