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School system accused of overemphasizing state-mandated tests

August 10, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Two County Commissioners criticized the school system's emphasis on state-required tests Tuesday and asked the Washington County Board of Education to measure student success in other ways.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly met with Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Theresa Flak last month to discuss bolstering student achievement.

In a joint meeting at Maugansville Elementary School, Flak suggested a plan to give the commissioners monthly updates on student progress this year.

She proposed reports including Maryland Functional Test results and Maryland School Performance Assessment Program data.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said the information won't tell him what he wants to know.

"I'm not going to focus on those because those scores really don't mean anything," said Iseminger. He asked for an overview of school programs instead of statistics.

"The numbers are wonderful, who goes to what school is great, but tell me what you're doing," he said. "I'm not sure those tests are worth a hoot."

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Schnebly said a school system that performs well will boost economic development and get parental support. He said local targets should be independent of state benchmarks.

"We need to have consensus on what we think are important standards," he said.

Flak said the MSPAP tests are a national model for school accountability. Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said Maryland has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of testing standards.

More standards have been added to the school system in the last two years than in its entire history, Bartlett said. "If I've been less than energetic (to add more), I apologize," he said.

Schnebly said he does not want to burden the schools with more standards. From the viewpoint of a parent, he said, schools should challenge students more and meeting standards and boosting academics should be "dual goals."

"There are too many tests and criteria out there now," Iseminger said. "The question is, are we accomplishing what we want to accomplish or just teaching to the test?"

School Board member Herbert Hardin said 17 days of the last school year were spent on testing, but most of those were required by the state. "I think we are over-testing our students," he said, but "teaching to the test" is necessary.

Schnebly proposed holding future work sessions to set a standards policy.

"I think we all believe in the same thing, I think we just have to get it organized," he said.

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