Test Preparation Was Above Board
The article in The Sun Jan. 14, entitled "Kids' Test Same as the Drill," gives a misleading and distorted picture of instructional practice in Harford County as it relates to the Maryland Writing Test.
I feel compelled to provide clarification of policies and procedures regarding our work with students for this test.
The article began with the statement that the ninth graders were taking "the identical test that they had been using for months as a practice lesson." This is misleading because the instructional unit for Maryland Writing Test preparation does not involve "months" of instruction, nor is it limited to a single practice test. Rather, the unit provides numerous prompts for the teachers to choose from during the instructional unit. Prompts are carefully designed writing assignments which "prompt" students to write fully developed responses demonstrating their understanding of the required topic and their ability to clearly communicate their ideas through writing at the second draft stage.
In the portion of the unit where this year's test prompts were included, there are 12 prompts each for the narrative and explanatory sections of the test in the student materials and 15 each in the teacher's instructional guide. Some of these were written locally, and some represent prompts from previous tests. No prompt is identified as a prompt for special instructional attention. Since each teacher preparing students for the test had such a large number of prompts to choose from for instruction, the likelihood that all Harford County students were given intensive instruction on even one of the actual test prompts, let alone both, is very slim.
The planned 10-day unit of instruction is to be offered in the 10 school days prior to Thanksgiving with appropriate follow-up periodically until Christmas. No teacher should have been teaching intensively for the test since the fall, a practice which would compromise other curricular expectations. In some instances, however, teachers may choose to extend instruction based on student needs. Other teachers may choose to abbreviate the unit. In either case, "months" of practice simply does not, and should not, occur.
For several years, the state has endorsed the use of past prompts in instructional materials. Last year, the state announced to English/Language Arts Liaisons from all over the state that their bank of test prompts was complete with a large number of statistically equated prompts, and that they would begin "recycling" prompts. They did not tell us when to expect that to happen. English department chairs at all schools were informed that "recycled" prompts were possible.
I am confident that the decision to recycle prompts does not compromise the validity of the test. I am also confident that any instruction involving the specific prompts that were on the test will have minimal impact on individual or overall scores. The fact that some teachers were not individually informed and were surprised to see a familiar prompt seems to have caused some
confusion. I regret that they did not seek information from their department chair or from this office for clarification.
Sharon K. Miller
The writer is an administrator for English/Language Arts, Harford County Board of Education.
Loss of Rights
I was deeply disturbed after reading Lyle Denniston's article "Abortion: The Legal Battleground is Changing." It amazed me how judges are so quick to limit one's constitutional rights in direct opposition to the Ninth Amendment (which states that the enumeration of rights cannot be used to deny or reduce other rights.)
I wonder how the judges and legislators would have reacted to this idea 30 years ago when many of them were avoiding the draft and participating in anti-war protests. I can recall walking past the demonstrators outside the draft board when I received my notice from the government. (I did not have the desire to run and hide in another country as some of our more prominent political leaders did. My parents taught me traditional values through their actions, not hallowed words. . . .)
I was not called to serve. However, I was willing to serve our country and die for it if necessary. I believed then, as I do now, that the freedom that those protesters were exercising is worth fighting and dying for. Today, it seems as if people are willing to let those freedoms go in the name of crime control.
The people of this country are being sold a pig in a blanket over crime reduction by the "politically correct" and the media. We are told that we, as honest law-abiding citizens, must give up our right to bear arms because of the actions of criminals.
Then we are told to give up our right to unlawful search and seizures (the Fourth Amendment) because we want to stop drug trafficking and prostitution (the city of Baltimore is currently considering a statute that will grant police the power to seize the automobiles of those suspected of doing business with prostitutes.)
I, like most honest citizens, stand firmly against crime and support law enforcement. However, I am not willing to relinquish my constitutional rights in the name of crime reduction. The unchallenged, unchecked misuse and abuse of power will turn the "pig in a blanket" into a snake, waiting for the opportunity to strike.
We, as citizens of the freest nation on earth, must inform our electorate that this disparging of our rights must not be tolerated.
$Marshall M. Currence, Jr.
Havre de Grace
Re: Editorial on "Havre de Grace High's Sick Policy," Jan. 7:
Does The Sun, as a typical employer, have a sick leave policy to prevent employees from abusing sick leave? Does The Sun require employees who have missed five or more days of work to obtain a doctor's certificate stating the cause of missed work?
Would The Sun retain an employee who misses five or more days of work every nine weeks? Do most companies in the Baltimore area have sick leave policies?. . . .
I always thought that one of the purposes of education was to change a person's behavior. When and where should the attitude of going to work or school every day be developed? In the home or at school? . . .
Your editorial missed one very salient policy mandated by the state Board of Education. The Maryland Department of Education mandates that a student must receive 132 clock hours of classroom instruction in order to be eligible for one Carnegie unit of credit.
A student who misses six days every quarter and 24 or more days a school year plainly does not meet the state mandate for 132 clock hours of classroom instruction.
How can the Maryland Department of Education hold high schools responsible for student attendance when they do not hold individual students responsible for completing 132 clock hours of classroom instruction?
Perhaps Havre de Grace High School is simply trying to enforce a mandate of the Maryland Department of Education. Perhaps, just perhaps, you should chastise the superintendent of education and the Maryland Board of Education for not enforcing its own policy.