Test scores keep rising

December 01, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

State test results indicate Washington County schools improved overall for the sixth straight year, jumping up in rank from 13th to eighth among Maryland's 24 school systems.

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Of the county students who took MSPAP exams in May, 51 percent scored at or above the state's satisfactory level. The composite score has risen each year since testing began in 1993, a total increase of 19 points.

In an afternoon press conference, Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said the county has reached a tremendous milestone. Surrounded by teachers, principals and colored balloons, Bartlett stood at a podium and smiled proudly.

"We have arrived, in my opinion," he said.

Washington County is one of only four school systems in the state, including Allegany, Queen Anne's and Wicomico counties, whose scores improved throughout the seven-year program. For the first time, the state average decreased from 44.1 to 43.8.


Washington County got its highest scores ever on 16 out of 18 MSPAP tests, six administered at three grade levels, according to Bartlett. In math, 63.4 percent of the eighth grade reached the satisfactory level - a record high for the county.

Bartlett gave credit to principals and teachers for their hard work and leadership. "Their work ethic is something like I've never experienced before," he said.

The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program is meant to measure each school's effectiveness, not the abilities of individual students. It functions as the state's report card on schools.

Each year, all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders spend five mornings taking exams in six subjects: reading, writing, math, language, social studies and science. Students write lengthy answers, unlike in other multiple choice tests.

The Maryland State Department of Education created MSPAP to spark classroom change. It is part of a broader 10-year-old reform attempt to improving instruction throughout the state.

MSPAP tests basic concepts as well as application of that knowledge to measure analytical skills. "The idea is, we want that diploma to mean you can think," said MSDE spokesman Neil Greenberger.

Many other states have adopted new testing standards that raise expectation levels for their students. MSPAP is considered among the most difficult testing programs in the nation, according to the MSDE.

"I thought Virginia had high standards," said Bartlett, who previously worked in that state. "I can honestly say these are the highest standards I know of in the country."

The state's goal is to have 70 percent of its students score at the satisfactory level by 2000, but past progress suggests that may be too high a hurdle for all counties to clear.

In 1993, the first year of MSPAP testing, four of 24 systems had an average of 40 percent make the satisfactory level. The 1999 results show 20 systems reached it and eight, including Washington County, scored 50 percent or above.

The grading system is a five-point scale. A test score of 1, 2 or 3 is below satisfactory while 5 is considered excellent, according to Greenberger. Scores reflect the percentage of students who got a 4 or better.

Washington County's third-graders got a 50.8 score and its fifth-graders got a 51.1 score. Together with its eighth-grade score of 51.2, the county reached a composite of 51.

The steady increases mean steady, long-term growth, which is more valuable than a higher score in a single year, according to Bartlett. He said he hopes the county's score keeps rising.

"I certainly believe that can go on forever," he said.

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