State cites slow score-reporting as reason for change
The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) plans to remove the brief constructed response (BCR) and extended constructed response (ECR) sections of the required High School Assessments (HSA) beginning in May 2009, MSDE Education Program Specialist William Reinhard said. The change is in response to complaints of slow grading from Maryland school systems, including MCPS.
All four exams – English, Government, Biology and Algebra – will be entirely multiple choice.
According to MCPS Director of Public Information Kate Harrison, MCPS welcomes the change. "If the constructed answer questions are eliminated, they're saying they will get responses back to schools in three weeks," she said. "We see that as a real positive."
Whereas multiple choice answers are graded quickly by scantron machines, written responses must be evaluated by hand. Reinhard confirmed that the elimination of the writing portions will reduce the turnaround time for scoring from nine to an expected three weeks.
Reinhard said that MSDE Superintendent Nancy Grasmick made the decision to change the assessments after consulting with all 24 local Maryland school superintendents, all of whom supported the change. The decision was officially announced to Maryland school systems the week of Sept. 3.
According to Reinhard, the MSDE has been planning the change for the past few years. "We knew that it's something we've been working on with the test vendor," he said. "The key was not to change the rigor of the test with the removal of the writing. We're now satisfied."
Academic leaders at Blair had mixed reactions to the change. The English, Social Studies and ESOL departments all expressed concerns that the elimination of writing questions from the exams will have negative effects on the curriculum and student performance. "With the tremendous emphasis on testing, at least the HSAs were supposedly designed not as another multiple choice test but a test that would focus teaching on what should be done in the classroom," social studies resource teacher George Vlasits said. "[This] is the opposite of that."
ESOL resource teacher Joseph Bellino voiced concerns that the removal of writing will hurt student performance. "The writing they do is not just formulaic; they are thinking and responding to a text," he said. "By not doing that, the kids lose out." According to Bellino, ESOL students typically find more success on written answers. "Multiple choice is black and white – there's not as much room for shades of understanding. If you miss one or two words, you may miss the whole question."
English resource teacher Vickie Adamson is similarly worried that the removal of writing from the exams will mean the removal of writing from the English curriculum. Reinhard acknowledged hearing such concern from throughout the county, but said he does not believe the change in the assessments will affect writing instruction. Otherwise, Reinhard said, feedback to the announcement of the upcoming change has been positive.
Both the science and math departments predicted little shift in their curricula to suit the new test. "We're still going to do literacy we're still going to do ECRs and BCRs in class," math resource teacher Shelley Sherman said.
"The county final will still have BCRs and ECRs so we still need to prepare students," acting science department chair Leslie Van said. The change "won't affect how we teach."
Van also acknowledged the benefits of eliminating the essays. "It's always good to get data faster," she said.
Reinhard is unsure what effect the change will have on exam expense. "Until the tests have been developed and scored we have no estimate at this point of cost," he said.
Beginning with the class of 2009, Maryland public school students are required to pass the four exams to graduate.
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