After a two-hour debate punctuated by several emotional outbursts, the Montgomery County Board of Education moved last night toward establishing mandatory annual county-wide examinations in math and English for senior high school students.
The exam requirement, approved on a 4-to-3 vote, would be part of a general policy for senior highs that the board will take a final vote on in October following a public hearing. The requirement could go into effect as early as next spring.
The board's conservative majority favors the examinations as a measure of student achievement and to ensure that the county's academic standards are being met consistently by each of its 22 high schools.
Members of the minority argued that the examinations would favor college-bound students and that there are already too many tests in the schools.
The exams would be taken by students in grades 9 through 12 and would be recorded on report cards but would not be taken into consideration in final course grades.
No other Washington area school system has a similar program of examinations.
Board President Marian Greenblatt, prime sponsor of the requirement, said the examinations would offer "more challenge and motivation to students." Greenblatt, Eleanor Zappone, Joseph Barse and Carol Wallace voted for the exams, while Blair Ewing, Elizabeth Spencer and Daryl Shaw opposed it.
According to the resolution approved, the school superintendent would have the power to exempt some students from the tests, including special education and foreign students. The board also voted to set up standardized tests at a future date in social studies, foreign language and science.
Ewing led the dissenters' outcry. He said the tests would be "slanted" for college-bound students and discriminate against those students with disadvantaged backgrounds and other interests besides "standard answers on standard tests."
He then listed a series of diagnostic and aptitude tests already given in county schools, and said, "we are simply over-tested as it is." Shortly before the final vote he charge, "this is a dumb move and those who vote for it are dumb."
That comment angered Wallace and Barse. "Apparently we come from very different philosophical backgrounds, Mr. Ewing," Wallace said, adding that "some Board members" were acting "childish." Barse glared at Ewing and shouted, "You'er just trying to get out of exams."
Greenblatt earlier yesterday disputed a preliminary school staff report completed last year that said county-wide tests would require 45 professional staff members and over $500,000 to develop. "That's out their ear," she said. "It will cost substantially less than that. . . they will save on workload and teacher time."
Other Washington area school districts currently require standardized tests in basic skills. In the District of Columbia, for example, third, sixth, and ninth graders are tested every year in math and reading proficiency. But all area school systems leave the option of final senior high testing up to each individual school. Greenblatt said there will be a considerable difference between the tests approved last night and those given under Maryland's Project Basic program, which will take effect three years from now.
"There will be nothing basic about this," Greenblatt said. "I want to see how our schools are measuring up to our standards here."
The Board also voted to give certificates of achievement to students who do well in class work.
In other action the school board announced in will hire a consultant to lead the search for a new superintendent to replace former Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, who resigned after a contract dispute.