Baltimore's benchmark tests
Amid all the activity at last night's city school board meeting, something outrageous got lost in the coverage today.
Three English teachers from Thurgood Marshall High spoke during public comment about the many flaws of the Baltimore City Benchmark Assessments that they must administer quarterly to their ninth- and 10th-grade students.
First off, the tests are filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes. (One example from a 10th-grade test that the teachers noted: "Write a response that explains a theme of the both the essay 'Clocks' and a passage from 'Dandelion Clocks.'") One of the teachers, Brandon Arvesen, said two texts used on the exams are plagarized. One reading passage doesn't contain the answer to the question students are asked about it. The tests don't measure students' knowledge of the city's English curriculum, and they don't measure what students need to know for the English High School Assessment. Passages, such as one about growing up on a cow farm, are also culturally irrelevant to urban students. And some of the readings, such as two Emily Dickenson poems, are far above a ninth-grade reading level. The HSA contains poetry by Robert Frost, which Arvesen said is more appropriate given that many city students come to high school at a fourth-grade reading level. He said he's watched students with A averages in his class close the benchmark testing booklets in frustration and say they can't do it.
The teachers clearly caught the attention of system officials, and Dr. Alonso said he'll investigate.