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The input schools need

November 17, 1998

In the wake of a Maryland State Teachers' Association report suggesting improvements to the state's standardized testing program, the state's assistant superintendent made a comment that demonstrates what the real problem is.

Speaking about teachers' proposals for outside reviews of some of the testing material, Ron Peiffer said the state is already doing extensive reviews, and changing the test where it's appropriate. And then Peiffer revealed the true nature of the problem:

"Unfortunately, teachers don't know we make those little adjustments as we go along."

Think about that comment and what it means: The front-line personnel of the school system, the people who are expected to teach children enough to successfully pass the tests, are in the dark about how the tests are reviewed and how flaws that turn up are corrected. And worse, the comment suggests that teachers' input isn't needed, because the education professionals are doing such a good job without their help.

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Even if that were true, which we doubt, disregarding teachers' input will not only lower morale, but will also deprive state-level officials of some good input from the schools. Frankly, suggestions we've heard from educators make a lot of sense, including:

- Limiting the testing period to three days. Teachers say that after the third day, students are are so tired of the process, they don't put a lot of effort into the final two days' testing.

- Sending individual students' scores home, so youngsters have an incentive to do better. Why should students try, teachers reason, if their individual scores are never revealed?

- Ending the practice of penalizing schools if students are absent on a test day. Students don't get a "zero" on regular class days if they have an excused absence, and state officials' expressed fear that poor students would be encouraged to stay home on test days is paranoid nonsense.

Such views only reinforce our belief that the people in charge of this testing program are too far removed from the classroom and more in need than they know of the help teachers are trying to offer them.

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