Fearful test-taker finds new state tests not so bad Students in grades 3, 5, 8 to be tested on performance in language, mathematics.


I hate taking tests.

One thing that contributed to my decision not to go to graduate school is my fear of tests. I suffered through tests for years. With each one came nightmares and anxiety. When I graduated from college, I decided no more tests. Enough is enough.

Enter state testing, a key portion of the Maryland School Performance Program, scheduled to start May 13. As an education reporter for Baltimore County, I am expected to know all I can about the tests, which will be given statewide to students in grades three, five and eight over an eight-day period.

The tests are intended to assess how well students apply the knowledge and skills they are taught. They also will serve to rate how well students in individual schools are grasping information.

About 300 Maryland residents who have been or currently are certified teachers will score the tests over the summer. Four teachers will participate in scoring each student's effort. The results will not be available until sometime next spring.

Yesterday, people who work in public information for education around the state, reporters and other media personnel were given the opportunity to take portions of two of the tests at the Maryland State Department of Education. We would become familiar with the test format and materials. We would be better prepared to answer questions or write stories.

No problem.

Early Sunday morning, I had a nightmare.

The results were in, and I had failed the mathematics test miserably. Newspapers and news programs made an example of me -- the reporter who works for a major metropolitan daily newspaper but can't add fractions.

In my defense, I pointed out that one of the reasons I became a reporter was that I knew I had little math ability. I really wanted to be a veterinarian, I said.

"Oh, really?" asked the nameless and faceless group of people in my dream. "Well then, why don't we take a look at the results of your English test, shall we?"

Of course, I bombed in reading and comprehension as well.

I woke covered with sweat and trembling. It was 4 in the morning. The house was quiet, save the beating of my heart.

Later that morning, my husband and I had breakfast with my mother and grandmother, who were visiting from out of town. I casually asked what they thought kids in fifth grade might be studying in math class.

"Long division, I think," my mother answered. "Maybe fractions. Unless they're learning some sort of new math now. Why?"

I told her about the tests. She glared at me.

"I'll teach you how to do long division after breakfast," she said, briskly.

"Mom, I know how to do long division," I said, slightly indignant. "But," I took a breath, "I don't think I know how to use a protractor."

My husband, who has a master's in computer science, agreed to show me how to use a protractor. But I worried about the tests on and off for the rest of the weekend.

Until yesterday, when I finally took them.

Although I can't divulge specifics about the actual tests, I can make a few generic comments.

One test focuses on reading, writing and language usage. Among other things, it assesses what students understand about a reading passage, how they communicate through writing and it includes opportunities for students to work in small and in large groups.

The mathematics test assesses students' ability to solve problems in an open-ended format and their ability to communicate mathematically, and it integrates reading and writing in authentic contexts with mathematical contents.

The tests are unlike the old multiple choice exams that I took in school. They require more reading and comprehension. And the grading is less rigid. For example, a student may calculate a math problem incorrectly, but if he or she can correctly support the answer, a certain number of points will be given.

I hope students don't worry about these tests as much as I did, although I suspect there are more than a few teachers and principals out there who are worrying about how their schools are going to compare with others in the state.

It really wasn't that bad.

But I'm still not going to grad school.

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