Maryland is planning state-wide tests of sophomores at publicly funded colleges in an effort to find out how well they are being taught.
State education officials said today the reading, writing and math exams, which would test students' ability to analyze, solve problems and communicate, would not be used to weed out students who know too little; they are intended to give administrators a better idea of how well their colleges are doing.
The State Board of Higher Education hopes to run an experimental version of the examination sometime in the next academic year, said Joe Popovich, the board's director of research and planning. He said the board will soon ask Gov. Harry Hughes to reallocate $150,000 the board already has in its budget to pay for the test.
"Each school would be measured against itself over time," said Popovich. "You would hope they would be gaining, or at least holding their own." A slip in the scores would be "cause for concern," he said, but no specific response to such an occurrence has been planned.
The board oversees Maryland's nine public four-year colleges and 19 community colleges.
There is no intention to compare the test results of different colleges or to make it mandatory for students to pass the exam before advancing to their junior year. It would take three to four hours to complete the entire test, but present plans call for giving each student a 40-minute part of the test. The results for the various sections would then be compiled to obtain a general picture of how the students as a whole are doing.
While Popovich said the idea has received general approval from most public colleges in the state, William Kirwan, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Maryland, said he thought the plan was "a big mistake."
"I feel that in some sense it's demeaning of what a college education is supposed to be about," Kirwin said. " . . . To think that we can assess what we are doing by some sort of standardized test taken in the sophomore year shows, in my view, a lack of appreciation for what a first-rate university education is all about."
Kirwan said such information as graduate and professional school acceptances, studies of university graduates and studies made by college accreditation boards are more useful and are already available to the state board. "I'm not opposed to our being assessed," Kirwan said, "because we are spending public dollars. We need to be examined and reviewed and evaluated, but I don't think this would be a particularly useful way of doing it."
Popovich said the test would be a valuable addition to evaluation methods mentioned by Kirwan. "We're just expanding the whole area of accountability," he said.