Balto. County plans standardized test changes for pupils

New schedules would help schools monitor aptitude, officials say

June 13, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County educators have proposed changing the school system's testing calendar and the types of exams given in an effort to get the clearest picture of pupil achievement and ensure that no pupil lags behind.

"Baltimore County's assessment programs have been in operation for four years and have served the students of the system well," said Ronald S. Thomas, assistant to the superintendent for educational accountability. "However, the refinement being proposed will permit us to use a consistent set of tests throughout our entire elementary and middle school program."

School administrators hope that if the Board of Education approves the changes at a meeting today, test results will be "more consistent" in meeting student needs from grade to grade, Thomas said.

In Baltimore County, as in many school systems across the state and the nation, the use of regular student assessments is increasing, Thomas said.

Tests are used to monitor and audit student achievement, and to focus classroom study, he said.

Recently, school system officials and school board members have questioned the use of three exams to monitor reading ability in kindergarten, first grade and second grade.

A modification of the school system's testing program would provide a "better parallel between information," said Jonna Hundley, coordinator of elementary language arts, who uses reading data to chart pupils' progress.

She said she also encourages parents to use the information.

"We want parents to have a better profile about how students perform in school," she said. "Often, a parent will come to us and say, `You say my son can't read, but what is it that he is having problems with?' This way we can clearly say, `He is having problems with reading comprehension.'"

These are the proposed changes in the school system's testing program, which includes the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program given every year to all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders, are the following:

Kindergarten teachers would use an updated checklist, reflecting a new kindergarten reading program, to assess pupils' knowledge of the alphabet and basic sounds in the fall and spring.

The Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS), a standardized test, would replace the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test, administered to all first-graders in the fall and spring.

Second-graders would take an advanced version of the reading portion of the CTBS at the end of the school year only. Only pupils who didn't take the test in the spring of their first-grade year would take the CTBS in the fall of their second-grade year.

For the first time, first-grade pupils would take the math portion of the CTBS in the fall and spring. The math portion of the CTBS takes about 40 minutes.

Second-graders would take the math portion of the CTBS at the end of the school year. Only those who didn't take the test in the spring of their first-grade year would take the math portion of the CTBS in the fall of their second-grade year.

Pupils would take the initial state functional reading and math tests, which all children must pass to graduate, in the sixth grade instead of the seventh grade. Pupils would take the initial state functional writing test in the seventh grade instead of the eighth grade.

Starting next year, sixth-graders would take the reading portion of the CTBS in the winter only. An end-of-the-year exam would be eliminated to reduce the number of tests children take in the sixth grade. Under the new system, sixth-graders would take five tests in the school year instead of seven.

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