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Absences may hurt test scores

May 03, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

High absentee rates in the schools will affect the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program results, according to Director of Elementary Education John Festerman.

On Monday, fifth-graders throughout the state began taking MSPAP tests, a weeklong process that measures student mastery in basic subjects. The program also rates overall school performance based on student scores.

More than half of Washington County's elementary schools reported higher than average absentee rates Monday, according to Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Theresa Flak.

The tests cannot be retaken, so missing days can harm the final results.

"It will affect scores," Festerman said Monday. "We don't know what effect it will have on the overall school report, but it probably won't help."

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MSPAP scores are not recorded on student transcripts. Students who score poorly on a test will not lose scholarships or harm their chances at entering college.

"MSPAP is a measure of how well a school or group of schools is doing, how the school is accomplishing what the state sees as the goal of education," said assessment analyst Gary Sturniolo. "The scores are taken as a whole."

According to Dr. Flak, 13 of the county's 25 elementary schools reported absentee rates of 10 percent or more. Bester Elementary had the highest rate with 23 percent of its students absent.

There has been a spate of absenteeism in the aftermath of the Littleton, Colo., shooting. Bomb threats and rumors of impending violence increased after the incident, causing many parents to pull their children out of schools.

All of Maryland's third- and eighth-graders will take the tests next week. Some schools are trying to boost attendance with special incentives. Bester held "Spirit Day" on Monday, offering breakfast to students and pastries to parents.

Williamsport Elementary School is giving away prizes to fifth-graders who earn tickets working well together or putting extra effort into their tests, according to teacher Kathy Churnesky.

Students can win movies, popcorn, soda, extra recess time, jackets, yo-yos and lunch with Principal Raymond Barrett, she said. One lucky student will win the chance to throw a pie in Barrett's face.

"He'll do anything he can to get these kids motivated," Churnesky said.

MSPAP tests cover five basic subjects, including science, math, social studies, reading and writing. In each content area, results are reported on a scale of one to five.

According to Maryland State Department of Education performance standards, schools where 70 percent of the students score 3 or above are considered satisfactory.

Festerman urged parents to send their kids to school. "We're just trying to make sure parents know this is an important time."

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