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Washington County sixth in MSPAP scores

January 29, 2002

Washington County sixth in MSPAP scores



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Washington County Public Schools ranked sixth in the state on the 2001 MSPAP tests for the second straight year, but the overall county average dropped from the previous year.

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Of the third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who took the tests, 52.1 percent scored at or above the state's satisfactory level, down from 54.4 percent in 2000.

School officials said the 2.3 drop in percentage points is insignificant according to state standards. A drop of 5 percentage points would be considered significant.

The number of students scoring satisfactory throughout the state was 43.7 percent, down from 45.3 percent in 2000. Washington County ranked higher than the state average by 8.4 percentage points.

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MSPAP stands for Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and is designed to hold schools accountable for performance, not the performance of individual students.

The Maryland State Department of Education's goal is to have 70 percent of its students score at the satisfactory level. The grading system is based on a five-point scale. A score of 1, 2, or 3 is considered satisfactory or excellent, with 1 being the highest score. Students are tested in reading, writing, language usage, mathematics, science and social studies. Each question must be answered in writing.

"Our standing is still excellent," Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said in a written statement. "Given that Maryland's state assessment consistently ranked number one in the nation, based on its high standards for performance, to rank sixth in the state's assessment program is commendable."

The percentage of the county's eighth graders who scored satisfactory, however, declined in each of the tests' six subject areas. School officials said they didn't know what caused the scores to decline, all of which were significant drops, but that the system will look into it.

Eighth graders' scores decreased the most on the writing test, declining 8.7 percentage points from 63.2 percent in 2000 to 54.5 percent in 2001. The scores in language usage went down 8.4 points from 56.6 to 48.2, followed by math, which declined 7 points from 68.2 to 61.2. Social studies went down 5.3 points from 56.0 to 50.7.

"I was disappointed when we saw the results..." Boyd J. Michael III, director of secondary education, said Monday morning. "I just kind of hope it's just a blip on the radar."

Michael said the county shouldn't panic over the drop in the eighth-grade scores.

"The sky's not falling. The world's not caving in," Michael said Monday afternoon. "It may have just been a tough test."

He said he thought the students took the tests seriously, but it's possible a few may not have. He doesn't think, however, that contributed to the declining scores.

"We saw kids working very hard and the staff working very hard," Michael said. "Kids can fake it pretty good too. But I can't say that that's what it is."

He said the school system will make adjustments, if necessary, to instruction, and thinks the county's current curriculum is working. He said, for example, eighth graders at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, posted the highest 2001 reading score in the state with 62.1 percent scoring at the satisfactory level.

"I'm confident that we're doing many of the right things," Michael said.

Hancock Principal John Davidson and former Hancock principal Robert Myers said they credited the school's staff for the good score. Myers, who was Hancock's principal up until this year, is now the principal at Western Heights Middle School.

Myers said he gave his teachers advice in 1998, which may have helped raise the school's scores.

"I said don't worry about the tests," he said. "Just give your best instruction to the kids every day, and results will follow."

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said that despite the decreases in eighth-grade scores, the county should still be proud of the MSPAP results.

"We're still sixth in the state," she said. She also said she's pleased that Washington County has surpassed Montgomery County on the tests, after years of lagging behind that school system. Last year, School Board members had set a goal to rank higher than Montgomery County, which dropped from fourth in the state in 2000 to eighth in 2001.

Outdoing Washington County on the 2001 scores were Howard County at 61.2 percent, Calvert at 55.6 percent, Kent at 54.7 percent, Harford at 53.3 percent and Worcester at 52.6 percent.

The state held up releasing the 2001 results for two months after the results came back with unusual decreases and increases. Testing experts with the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment determined that the results were accurate. Scores are usually released at the end of November of the testing year.

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