5th-graders walk out on performance test at Red House Run


When the new state performance test came in to Red House Run Elementary in Rosedale Monday, more than a dozen fifth-graders walked out.

Parents of 14 fifth-graders at the Baltimore County school kept their children out of test sessions starting Monday to protest the ambitious new exam, complaining that questions surrounding the program had been left unanswered and that parents had been inadequately informed.

The tests, being taken by some 160,000 third-, fifth- and eighth-graders statewide, are the linchpin of the state's efforts at educational reform.

"We don't object to the test," said Ellen Ping, whose daughter Alicia would have been taking the test this week. "I think it's basically a good test. . . . I want to know what they're going to do with this information."

Each morning this week, Ms. Ping or another parent has walked into Red House Run Elementary at about 10 a.m, signed out the 14 children and taken them to one of the parents' homes, where they do schoolwork until testing is over. They return to school about 11:45 a.m.

The Red House Run group plans to keep the children out of school each morning until fifth-grade testing ends Wednesday.

Principal Rodney D. Obaker said the students' absences would likely be marked as unexcused. The absences are not lengthy enough to affect the students' grades, however, he said.

School officials in Baltimore and the counties of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard, as well as state officials in the Department of Education, said they were unaware of such protests elsewhere.

The Red House Run group has begun circulating fliers to other parents that are headed, "Do you know your child is taking the MSPAP test? Concerned Parents Objections," followed by 14 points.

The fliers urge parents to write to Gov. William Donald Schaefer or the Department of Education.

"I think our main object is to try to make sure that other parents know that there are other issues that need to be addressed by the state that are unresolved," said Carol Fettweis, who has a daughter, Jennifer, in the fifth grade.

Many of the issues listed by the parents have been debated for months by local and state officials and teachers. They include complaints that children lose too much instructional time in the eight days of testing, that supplementary materials necessary for the testing have diverted money from regular school budgets, that there are too many tests in schools and that it's unfair to apply one standard to all children regardless of their circumstances and capabilities.

Like other critics, the Red House Run group say the state should delay the test until such questions are resolved. But state officials have no plans to stop the program, which, according to local and state officials, has gone relatively smoothly around the state.

State officials have said that the testing is an appropriate part of classroom time, that supplemental materials bought for the test are materials students should have anyway, that they have made efforts to limit state-mandated tests and that it is appropriate to hold all schools to a single standard.

"Is it fair to require a kid to go to a school that doesn't meet at least satisfactory standards?" asked Steve Ferrarra, a test specialist in the Department of Education.

But the parents' most recurrent complaint was lack of information. They said they first became aware of issues surrounding the test last week, when it was the subject of a letter home to parents and was discussed in newspaper articles.

Some of their listed concerns reflected the confusion that has surrounded the test as state officials rushed to implement it in record time. Parents complained, for example, that the test would not yield individual results showing how each child performed.

Mr. Ferrara said such results would indeed be generated, although the state and local districts have yet to decide how to use and disseminate them.

"I would agree that the information that the department has produced has not always been successfully communicated to everybody who should hear it," Mr. Ferrarra said. "The system wasn't completely successful, and it probably never is."

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