In an effort to compare and evaluate its senior high schools, Montgomery County is considering a plan which would require students to take a uniform year-end examination in two subjects, in addition to their regular final examinations.
The board of education is scheduled to take final action on the controversial plan next week. If approved, standaridized tests in English and math would be administered in a three-year pilot program. The exams could later be expanded to include all other courses offered in the country's 22 high schools.
The uniform testing plan has come under attack by students and PTA groups who fear it could destroy individual teaching styles and be used to rank the county schools against each other.
"If you're going to have standardized tests, you're going to have standardized students," groused Churchill high school senior Sarah Simmons. "There's no way you can do that."
At a recent protest rally outside the board of education headquarters in Rockville, Gaithersburg high school senior Karina Porcelli said, "There's a difference between what the tests emphasize and what a teacher emphasizes."
The Montgomery Council of PTA's, a long-standing liberal force in Montgomery school politics, has also lined up against the exams which are being pushed by the back-to-basics conservative board majority.
Citing the $300,000 cost to develop the tests in English and mathematics alone, as well as the "homogenizing effect such a program would have on the school system's diverse teachers and courses, the MCCPTA is strongly opposed to the tests.
"We're in favor of having students meet certain course objectives," said MCCPTA vice president Zoe Lefkowitz. "But that doesn't mean every teacher should teach in the same way. County-wide exams could limit the individuality of teachers."
The tests, under current plans, would be a mixture of multiple choice and essay questions. A student's score on the standardized exam would be entered on report cards along with the student's final grade in the course.
Of the more than 27,000 senior high school students, only those with learning handicaps, limited commands of English or "other valid reasons" would be exempted-from the tests.
"The purpose of the final exams is not to test how bright a student is but to test whether a student has achieved the objectives of the course," said board member, Carol Wallace, who joined Joseph Barse, Marian Greenblatt and Eleanor Zappone is voting down a move by the liberal members of the board who are opposed to the uniform testing.
Supporters of the plan argue that uniform exams would enable educators to make sure that "students were getting what we expected them to get," according to board member Barse.
"Students think this will turn them into robots,' Barse said in defense of the tests, "but the individual teacher giving an exam may be the most unfair practice of all."
But board member Blair Ewing thinks uniform testing of the individual students will not work. "Why some schools do poorly and others do well requires a systematic evaluation," Ewing said. "You don't get at that by student tests. There may be variables that have nothing to do with student performance."
Among school administrators, there is some confusion over whether the year-end uniform tests would measure the success of school curricula or merely its uniformity.
"Nothing is clearcut," said one county educator. "There are pros and cons to both sides."