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State performance tests fail to impress educators


Save for perhaps the people who drew it up, no one seems happy with tests administered under the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program -- certainly not county teachers and administrators.

"The directions aren't clear," complained Thomas Rhoades, MSPAP coordinator for county schools. "For some questions, there are no correct answers."

School officials and teachers have expressed emotions ranging from concern to outrage over the test, which is being administered to eighth-grade students this week. Third- and fifth-grade students took their tests last week.

The test, which caused controversy even before it was implemented last year, has led to a vocal outcry from teachers.

The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, along with other local association presidents and Maryland State Teachers Association president Jane Stern, has scheduled a press conference for 9 this morning to denounce the test as flawed.

In a release issued yesterday, TAAAC officials said teachers had discovered "material both written and pictorial that was inappropriate and offensive." TAAAC officials also have complained about other "flaws" they've found in the test.

"The way this test has been designed and implemented is ludicrous," TAAAC president Thomas J. Paolino said in the release. "The test is exposing young children to material that parents have tried to protect them from seeing."

TAAAC leaders could not be reached for further comment.

While teachers meet for a press conference, Rhoades said school administrators from across the state are to meet with Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) officials today for their regular monthly meeting. Rhoades said he expects the MSPAP will be the focus of much discussion.

Students are being tested in mathematics, science, social studies, reading, writing and language arts.

Rhoades said one of the main problems with the MSPAP is that it was never subjected to a dry run before being administered to students.

"No one ever took the test," Rhoades said. "No one examined the test booklets to make sure they were all consistent. It just shouldn't have been done."

Teachers have been calling school officials with questions on unclear directions and complaints of insufficient materials to perform the science parts of the exam, said Adam Milam, coordinator of testing for the county schools.

The amount of time students have to take the test varies from county to county, Rhodes said, because the directions are unclear.

Despite the problems, Milam said, students overall seem to enjoy the test.

Rhoades said he is a perpetual optimist and expects the Department of Education to respond to the problems of MSPAP. He said he hopes the state will come up with some way to assess the test while taking into account its problems and flaws.

The MSPAP has been applauded for its aim to get away from the traditional multiple-choice tests and, instead, mirror real-life situations. However, there has been criticism concerning the lack of training for teachers administering the tests and the lack of additional money to purchase equipment for the tests.

The test was first given last year. When results were released in March, state officials downplayed the finding that most students across the state scored in levels four and five, based on level one as the highest and five the lowest.

The majority of students in Anne Arundel scored in levels three and four.

School systems have until the year 2000 to meet state standards for the test.

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