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Time to review MSPAP test

January 31, 2002

Time to review MSPAP test



Washington County maintained its ranking as the sixth-best school the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing, even though averages dropped here, as they did in most counties in the state. Without diminishing the achievement of local teachers and students, it's time to look again at the MSPAP program.

Scores statewide dropped 1.6 percent in 2001 for MSPAP, which tests third, fifth and eighth-grade students in reading, writing, math, science, social students and language usage.

Results were due out last November, but were delayed because of some concerns about wild swings in scores and a decline in Montgomery County results. A probe by an outside agency turned up nothing, however.

State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said it isn't the test that's to blame, but the fact that many children come to school not ready to learn. There are also more inexperienced teachers in the classrooms, she said, and more children for whom English is a second language.

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But for more than 10 years, this test has been the subject of much criticism, because it's been shrouded in secrecy. When the prestigious Abell Foundation assembled a panel of experts to study it in 1999, they weren't allowed to remove test materials from state education headquarters.

That panel panned the test, concluding that "content is not adequately covered..."

Part of that is by design. Instead of asking students to recite facts, MSPAP concentrates on how well students can put those facts to use. And it has its defenders. In 2001, Education Week concluded that Maryland had the nation's highest educational standards and the best accountability program.

Grasmick may have provided a solution when she singled out several schools around the state for praise on their performance, despite high poverty rates. It may be that they're doing as former Hancock Principal Robert Myers did in 1998, when he told his teachers not to worry about the tests, and just give students the best possible instruction every day. Hancock's eighth grade reading scores were the highest in the state. It's time for a closer look at what teachers there are doing right.

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