Maryland students taking a series of skills tests for the first time last April achieved average scores when compared to national norms, state education officials said today.
The Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills replaced the California Achievement Tests. Both tests seek to compare students' reading, language and math skills to those of students in other states.
A majority of the state's 24 school districts chose to give the tests to all students in grades three, five and eight. In about a third of the districts, the tests were given to a representative sample of students.
The results show that:
* In the third grade, the percentile rankings were 56.7 in reading comprehension. That means more than half the students scored higher than the national norm while more than 40 percent scored below the norm. In other tests of third-graders, the percentile rankings were 50.0 in language and 49.8 in math.
* In the fifth grade, the percentile rankings were 50.2 in reading,52.6 in language and 53.9 in math.
* In the eighth grade, the percentile rankings were 57.5 in reading, 50.6 in language and 49.8 in math.
Officials at the state Department of Education said the performance standards, or norms, for the California Achievement Tests were developed in 1977. National norms for the basic skills tests, now used in five other states, were developed in 1989. The tests emphasize "higher level skills similar to current classroom instruction," the department said.
Tests given as part of the Maryland School Performance Program, a separate evaluation designed to hold each school accountable for student achievement, are more helpful to classroom teachers seeking to gauge students' performance, officials said. Tests used in the performance program include essay writing and hands-on science experiments.
But the basic skills tests, which consist of multiple-choice questions, still are valuable, said Bob Gabrys, an assistant state superintendent for school performance.
"You have the obligation to ask how well students in Maryland are going to compete" nationally, Gabrys said.
Data from the first testing cycle will provide a baseline from which to examine trends, officials said.