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Daily Mail editorial - 3/14/02

March 14, 2002

The MSPAP mix-up and one possible fix

Just a week after Maryland School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick told local school systems that they could opt out of the state's MSPAP test for eighth graders, she has discovered that such a move might cost the state some $275 million in federal funds. How that detail escaped her staff should get some legislative scrutiny, along with any proposal to replace the test.

MSPAP - the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program - been given to the state's third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students for more than 10 years.

The sometimes controversial test, which tries to measure how well students can apply what they've learned, as opposed to testing them on how much content they've absorbed, has been controversial. That was especially true this year, when double-digit swings in results led to a probe of scoring that turned up nothing.

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That didn't satisfy big systems like Montgomery County, which still want MSPAP tossed out. Last month state education officials appeared to be caving in, with Ron Peiffer, the assistant state superintendent, saying that "MSPAP as we know it will probably be gone in a few years."

The idea was to drop MSPAP for the eighth graders, to give state officials more time to develop a test that would satisfy President Bush's new testing requirement.

Then came word from Grasmick that the feds might yank millions in funding if the state didn't offer the MSPAP tests, because its results are used to determine how much Maryland gets for special education and low-income students.

Why Grasmick's staff didn't know that is something state lawmakers should ask. They should also ask Grasmick why the state must develop its own test to meet the president's goals, when there's a good chance one of other 49 states already has something that works. Pride of ownership can be a good thing, but not when it costs the taxpayers money they shouldn't have to spend.

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