Rogers Heights Elementary School had a pep rally this month, with cheerleaders and a pep talk from the principal and a rousing rendition of "I Believe in Me," sung by third and fifth graders.
"It's an attempt to make the students feel good about themselves, about doing their best," Principal Margaret O'Hare explained.
More specifically, the rally was to spur students on to do their best on the California Achievement Test, considered one of the major national indicators of student achievement. The test is being given this month to third and fifth graders throughout the nation.
The test, which takes 90 minutes each morning for eight days, is but one of 29 standardized exams on the school system's testing calendar.
And some educators, with an eye to the time students spend preparing for and taking standardized tests, now wonder if that is too much.
"We do spend too much time testing," Board of Education member Marcy Canavan said recently. At tonight's regular Board of Education meeting, Canavan plans to introduce a resolution to eliminate tests she says are redundant or have little value.
"Something's got to give," she said.
Canavan's concerns are shared by a number of educators, and some say standardized tests have become more of a political than education tool, as many tests are designed solely for comparison purposes.
Elwood Loh, director of research and evaluation for the schools, said standardized testing has become a public mandate. "There was a good deal of public distrust of the schools," he said. "People thought kids were graduating who couldn't read, couldn't do math," But the proliferation of tests has offered more than enough evidence, Loh said.
In the wake of the test fever, some school officials have begun to question the tests' impact on what and how students are taught.
"Common sense tells you, if you're rating a school on a test, they're going to teach to it," Canavan said.
Although no one in the county has been publicly chastised for going beyond the normal testing preparations, it is not uncommon for schools to drill youngsters in test-taking techniques. At Rogers Heights, teachers adapted standardized test formats, such as circling the correct answer, in their own lessons.
Standardized tests can take from one to four hours, but disruption among classes is a common complaint among educators. In high schools, students are pulled out of classes to make up or repeat exams.
"It's a very disruptive process," Loh said. "High school principals have to go through and find the kids. You have to take out one-third. What do you do with the rest of the class?"
Canavan's proposal would eliminate the California Achievement Test in the 11th grade, noting that high school students already are overburdened with four functional tests required by the state for graduation as well as college entrance examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
It also would eliminate a visual materials test designed to determine if elementary pupils know how to use charts and a test for middle school students given to measure vocabulary and reading comprehension. Neither test is mandated by the state or county, and testing officials said plans already are under way to phase them out.
Generally, the school administration has been supportive of the extensive testing, often using the results to point to improvements in the system. Superintendent John A. Murphy, who has set a 1990 goal for having students perform among the top 25 percent on standardized tests, supports keeping the 11th grade California Achievement Test, according to a school spokesman. It is now given every other year in Prince George's.
"It allows us to compare the progress and determine whether there's continued improvement," school spokesman Brian J. Porter said.
In the meantime, the county is introducing a new series of tests, called the Criterion Reference Test system. The exams -- a concept in which schools design tests for use in their own system -- is used to determine how much students are learning in their regular classes. The results are considered valuable in pinpointing the problems of individual pupils, classes and spotlighting weaknesses in the curriculum. They will be given to students in third through sixth grade and to test middle and high school students in social studies, English, science and math.
Other standardized tests are seen as valuable methods of pinpointing weak and strong areas of individual students and entire school systems. Among the exams administered each year are reading readiness tests for primary students and twice-a-year exams to check on the progress of kindergarteners. Other tests identify students with learning disabilities or those who are intellectually gifted.