Schools face harder tests

Maryland Functional being replaced by more rigorous exam

October 12, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Baltimore secondary students who struggled last year to pass state tests measuring basic competency in reading and math may have more trouble passing more challenging exams being used for the first time in high schools across Maryland.

This year's ninth-graders will be the first to be officially scored on the state's new High School Assessments, which measure students' knowledge in subjects such as algebra, English, biology and government.

Those exams are far more rigorous than the Maryland Functional tests - designed to ensure that children know how to read a glossary, change a fraction to a percent and identify the main idea of a text passage, among other things.

City education officials released test results this week showing a significant drop in middle and high school functional pass rates last year.

The pass rate for students in grades six through 12 who took the reading test was 62 percent, down from 69 percent. In math, the pass rate fell to 18 percent, from 26 percent.

The functional tests are considered basic competency tests containing sixth-grade level content. Students start taking them in the sixth grade and continue until they pass, which is a state requirement for high school graduation.

Areas of difficulty

City students had the most trouble, in math, with measurement, mixed numbers and problem solving.

The following are sample questions:

Rename 1/2 as a percent:

A. 200%

B. 50%

C. .5%

D. 55%

A package of 4 light bulbs costs $.96. What would be the cost of one light bulb?

A. $.21

B. $1.00

C. $3.84

D. $.24

The length of a sewing needle would best be measured in:

A. mm

B. kg

C. m

D. mL

A student car wash began at 10:00 a.m. The students completed the last car at 6:30 p.m. How long did the students work?

A. 4 hours and 30 minutes

B. 16 hours and 30 minutes

C. 8 hours and 30 minutes

D. 3 hours and 30 minutes

On the reading test, students had the most difficulty identifying main ideas and using details.

One sample question contains a chart listing seven Maryland counties and their library circulations. Students are then asked: What is the circulation in books per year of the Allegany County Library System?

Another item asks students to read a short selection on Harriet Tubman and how she helped lead slaves to freedom. They then must choose the passage's main idea from a list of four.

The replacement

The state is phasing the functional tests out, in part because they are considered too basic. Replacing them will be the High School Assessments, which are expected to become a requirement for graduation.

This year's ninth-graders will be the first to have their assessment scores reported on their permanent transcripts.

Baltimore schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo said yesterday that planned middle and high school reforms - including more rigorous coursework - should help students do better on the existing tests, as well as the new ones.

"You'll never get 100 percent passing," she said. "What you're looking to do is increase the percentage passing and to make sure for the high stakes test ... [that] you're putting in the kinds of interventions you need."

"What teachers teach and how well they teach it is the bottom line," she said.

Assistant State Superintendent Ronald A. Peiffer said the assessments require higher-level thinking than the functional tests.

"You kind of have to really know your stuff to do well," he said. "They're pretty sophisticated."

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