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Rachel Nipper, a fifth-grader at Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School, receives her copy of the Terra Nova test Wednesday from Jennifer Henry, Nipper’s home room teacher. Rachel is taking the science portion of the standardized test that also evaluates math, reading, writing and social studies during the four-day testing period.
Rachel Nipper, a fifth-grader at Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School, receives her copy of the Terra Nova test Wednesday from Jennifer Henry, Nipper’s home room teacher. Rachel is taking the science portion of the standardized test that also evaluates math, reading, writing and social studies during the four-day testing period. (Ben Bloker / S&S)
Rachel Nipper, a fifth-grader at Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School, receives her copy of the Terra Nova test Wednesday from Jennifer Henry, Nipper’s home room teacher. Rachel is taking the science portion of the standardized test that also evaluates math, reading, writing and social studies during the four-day testing period.
Rachel Nipper, a fifth-grader at Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School, receives her copy of the Terra Nova test Wednesday from Jennifer Henry, Nipper’s home room teacher. Rachel is taking the science portion of the standardized test that also evaluates math, reading, writing and social studies during the four-day testing period. (Ben Bloker / S&S)
Douglas Dean, a fifth-grader at Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School, answers practice questions during the second day of Terra Nova testing Wednesday at Landstuhl. Douglas is taking the science portion of the standardized test.
Douglas Dean, a fifth-grader at Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School, answers practice questions during the second day of Terra Nova testing Wednesday at Landstuhl. Douglas is taking the science portion of the standardized test. (Ben Bloker / S&S)

LANDSTUHL, Germany — A taped sign on the door reads, “Please Do Not Disturb. Testing.”

On the other side of the door, fifth-graders from Landstuhl Elementary and Middle School are about to take the science portion of their annual TerraNova standardized test.

“Quickly, boys and girls, get your pencils ready,” teacher Jennifer Henry tells the pupils. “At this point, there is no more talking.”

A few students anxiously dive into the booklet and get to work, but many appear indifferent.

A lot is riding on the test, which pupils at most Defense Department schools across Europe are taking this week. Their scores will serve as a gauge on how they compare to other students across the United States.

The results also will serve as a measuring stick on how well teachers are doing their jobs and the school’s overall performance, in addition to helping shape the curriculum for next year and beyond.

While Defense Department schools have consistently performed above the national average on standardized tests, the examinations have come under fire. Standardized testing has become increasingly important and equally controversial since the passage of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, one of President Bush’s marquee domestic initiatives.

The federal law’s emphasis on mandated testing is what has riled many educators and has fueled calls for a major overhaul on Capitol Hill.

Those who favor the tests say they help parents and educators measure academic strengths and weaknesses so that they can help pupils boost their overall academic performance. Critics charge that standardized tests do more harm than good.

Monty Neill, co-executive director of the nonprofit, Massachusetts-based National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said commercial, norm-referenced tests such as TerraNova are flawed and too many standardized tests fail to accurately measure creativity, thinking skills and problem solving.

“It doesn’t tell you very much,” Neill said. “To some degree, they’re terrible on creativity. Creative thinkers don’t do well on these tests.”

All Defense Department school students between third and 11th grade take the TerraNova test every March. In about six weeks, parents will receive the test results, which show how their child performed in comparison to other students who took the test across the U.S.

But every state doesn’t give the test. Many states, including California, have their own test. Plus, there are other companies that offer different tests.

Janet Rope, who oversees the Defense Department school systems accountability, research and assessment division, acknowledged the TerraNova test isn’t perfect, but it’s not the only method used to measure a student’s performance and academic potential.

“That’s why we really think it’s important to have multiple sources of data,” Rope said.

One of the most important pieces of data is from teacher observations, educators say.

Henry, who has taught for five years, said some pupils are smart and know the subject in class but do poorly on the test because they aren’t good test takers. She said it is important for parents to encourage their children to do well on the tests but not measure their ability entirely on a yearly, multiple-choice exam.

“I tell parents, ‘Don’t base everything on one test,’” Henry saiid.

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