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New problems may arise with new eighth-grade tests

April 08, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan last week hailed the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills as an opportunity to determine how county students stack up against the nation.

She said the test will also measure how students are faring with the county's standards.

The School Board agreed and voted unanimously last Tuesday to replace the eighth-grade MSPAP tests with the CTBS for this school year. The CTBS is a national standardized test currently given to the state's second-, fourth- and sixth-graders.

The switch will cost the school system $20,000.

But as the Maryland State Department of Education moves toward major school reform efforts, the future of the CTBS is up in the air.

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"I don't exactly know what the future will hold because our job is to produce new tests..." Assistant State Superintendent Ron Peiffer said.

Peiffer said the state is charged with creating tests that will generate individual student scores and meet new federal regulations under President Bush's education plan. The CTBS provides limited scoring information about individual students by measuring what percentile a student falls in based on a national norm, Peiffer said.

For example, if a student falls into the 50th percentile, it means that 50 percent of students across the nation scored better than that particular student.

"That gives you some pretty limited information," Peiffer said. "As a norm-referenced test, it doesn't really help you."

The CTBS measures reading, language and math skills through multiple-choice questions.

Currently, the CTBS is given to students in years they don't take the MSPAP tests. Peiffer said he doesn't think switching back and forth from norm-based tests to state assessment tests is going to be effective and consistent once new state reform efforts are in place.

"That structure will not work," he said.

The state efforts will closely follow the new federal regulations contained in President Bush's education plan.

The plan requires states to give annual assessments in reading and math in grades three through eight by the 2005-06 school year. Peiffer said that new seventh- and eighth-grade tests would be in place in Maryland next school year.

Eventually, the assessments are going to resemble the High School Assessments, tests that ninth-graders will be required to pass in order to graduate. The High School Assessments contain multiple-choice and essay questions. The MSPAP contains only essay questions and the CTBS only multiple choice.

Furthermore, a state-sponsored panel has asserted that the CTBS falls short of meeting state standards.

"State assessments must adequately measure state standards and report on how well students are achieving state standards; the CTBS is unlikely to meet these two critical needs," Achieve Inc. wrote in "Aiming Higher: The Next Decade of Education Reform In Maryland."

Achieve states in the January report that the CTBS is less useful for "giving teachers diagnostic information about student strengths and weaknesses."

The Maryland State Department of Education hired Achieve to provide an expert analysis for the state-created Maryland Visionary Panel for Better Schools.

Peiffer, however, said Washington County's decision to administer the CTBS to eighth-graders this year will provide the school system with some useful information. He said the system will be able to measure the progress made by students since they took the test in sixth grade.

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