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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 01/27/2012

MoCo to drop standardized test for second graders (updated)

(Update: Adding amount of money saved by dropping test)

Good for Montgomery County Public Schools Supt. Joshua Starr: He has decided to stop giving the TerraNova 2 standardized test to second graders in a move to save money and reduce the number of tests young children are forced to take.

Starr, who is in his first year at the helm of Montgomery County schools, one of the highest-achieving school systems in the country, said in a statement that there were other ways to get the information that the TerraNova provided to teachers.

“While the TerraNova does provide some useful information, I believe we can assess student progress with existing tools and use the money spent on the TN2 in a better way,” he said. “Testing certainly has its place, but we must carefully consider every assessment we are giving our students and determine if the benefits outweigh the cost and the interruption to instruction.”

The move will save $230,000 a year, a district spokesman said.

At a time when many school systems around the country are — unfortunately — increasing the number of tests that students have to take so that teachers in all areas can be evaluated on the scores that students get on the exams, Starr’s decision is a move in the right direction. He announced the TerraNova 2 decision to the Board of Education on Thursday night.

In fact, in D.C. public schools, which neighbors Montgomery County, officials are gearing up to start giving second graders the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System this spring, so they can join their schoolmates in grades 3 through 8.

It’s part of the District’s teacher assessment program, called IMPACT, that evaluates teachers in large part on test scores, a method that has become increasingly popular among school reformers even though many assessment experts said it is not reliable or fair to teachers.

Under the D.C. system’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system, the scores are injected into a “value added” formula that purports to tell how much “value” a teacher added to a student’s learning. There are different formulas and all kinds of problems with the formulas; how, for example, can a formula factor in exactly how much a child is affected by living in a homeless shelter and being hungry and exhausted the day of a big test? Still D.C. officials want to have 75 percent of classroom teachers evaluated by this system within five years.

California tests students from grades 2 to 11 in a range of subjects already, and the California Teachers Association has long complained that the second grade tests are a waste of money.

Teachers know that giving standardized tests to second graders is a bad idea because they are known to be unreliable test takers.

 Second graders in Montgomery County public schools currently take the TerraNova 2 in reading, language mechanics, mathematics, and mathematics computation. Though the TerraNova2 is being dropped, they will still take, along with students in kindergarten and first grade, the MCPS Assessment Program — Primary Reading (MCPS AP-PR) three times throughout each school year to measure reading ability and attainment.

According to a paper on second-grade testing from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, an organization that aims to end the misuse of tests:

*Research clearly shows that for children below fourth grade, the mechanics of taking tests and answering on specialized answer sheets can prove more difficult than the cognitive tasks the tests are asking them to address. Thus the test results are too much influenced by children’s ability to fill in bubbles and handle pieces of paper; too little determined by their ability to read.

Standardized tests are scary for primary school children, bad for their morale and confidence. Overwhelmed by the test situation, they often don t show what they do know and can do. Instances of children breaking down, crying, unable to face school, becoming literally sick with anxiety in the face of standardized tests, are common. Most teachers in the early grades understand the importance of maintaining their students level of interest and high morale, both of which tend to be undone by tests. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has, for a number of years, come out against standardized testing of young children for some of these same reasons.

Also, differences in background show up vividly in the early years of schooling: some children arrive in school never having actually handled a book or in some cases seen one close up; others have had books read to them since infancy. These differences tend to diminish in the face of their common school experience. Narrowing the gap between the more and less advantaged students is one of the great potentials of the public school system. Premature testing, however, by highlighting differences, will reinforce them in the minds of children.

There are additional problems connected with this, including the amount of test preparation that teachers of young children feel compelled to give their students to try to make sure their scores are high enough, too often perverting the educational program.

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By  |  04:00 AM ET, 01/27/2012

Categories:  Montgomery County Public Schools

 
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