As the Maryland State Board of Education prepares to make key decisions on its proposed high school graduation tests, state PTA leaders called yesterday for the program to be delayed until parents' fears and concerns can be alleviated.
"Parents are not to be ignored in the public school reform debate, nor are parents merely passive consumers of a product," Maryland PTA President Carmela A. Veit said at a news conference. The board "cannot proceed in haste and with apparent disregard of basic public questions."
Despite the state's ambitious series of meetings with educators, students and parents over the past year, PTA officials said "there has not been a free and open discussion" of the innovative tests, which promise to keep Maryland in the forefront of school reform.
At its meeting this morning, the state board is scheduled to settle several issues that will allow test designers to continue their work. The board is expected to decide how many tests will be developed, the general types of questions to be asked and whether the tests will be tied to high school graduation, said state education department spokesman Ronald A. Peiffer.
The state board said more than a year ago that students would be required to pass 10 tests in four subjects -- mathematics, English, science and social studies -- beginning with the class of 2004, this year's fifth-graders.
Since September, education officials and representatives of the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, the test designers, have met with 3,700 people in dozens of meetings around Maryland, said Peiffer.
He said the tests' critics were not getting their questions answered "because we don't have answers, and that's what's driving them crazy."
School and board officials have said that they will settle the details of the tests in stages, seeking advice from educators, parents and the public along the way. "At this time next year, we will know a lot more about what the tests will look like," he said.
"Personally, I believe we should move forward," board President Christopher T. Cross said yesterday. "All we're doing is putting the plan in motion -- making decisions that will permit the tests to be developed."
Cross acknowledged "a great deal of misunderstanding" about the board's work so far. "This is a beginning."
But Veit and other PTA officials said educators and board members need to deal with "basic questions" such as how much the tests will cost and how much local school systems will have to spend on them. Other questions: what changes in curriculum will be required and how teachers will be prepared for a new curriculum.
Veit did not specify how long a delay she was advocating, but said it should last "until parents have their fears and their questions and their concerns alleviated."
Though stopping short of saying the PTA opposed the tests, Veit said her organization, which represents about 5,700 parents across the state, is opposed "to the concept that at one moment at one time, a test would weigh so heavily that a child would not graduate."
"We are not against raising standards. We don't understand, however, how state-mandated tests will measure those standards."
If students are leaving the state's high schools unprepared for college and work, state officials should get busy improving instruction and curriculum rather than imposing tests, she said.
Last month, the College Board presented four possible test designs, with costs ranging from $11.9 million to $23.3 million annually. Representatives asked the state board to choose a design and clarify other issues so that design work can continue.
The designs include a traditional, multiple-choice test, as well as a portfolio version that combines a collection of each student's work in a given course with a two- to three-hour standardized test.
Pub Date: 2/26/97