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Washington County Board of Education mulls MSPAP testing option

March 26, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

The Washington County Board of Education will have the option of not administering the eighth-grade MSPAP tests next month, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Education.

Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said she hopes the board will decide by the end of this week whether to drop the eighth-grade test. The MSPAP tests for eighth-graders are scheduled from April 29 to May 3.

School Board member Roxanne Ober said Sunday the board may have to call an emergency meeting soon to decide the fate of the eighth-grade tests. She did not know when a meeting might be called.

Earlier this month, the Maryland State Department of Education gave local school systems the option of dropping the eighth-grade tests, but put the option on hold a few days later after concern that systems that choose to do so would lose federal Title I money.

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Schools that receive Title I money must have in place school accountability measures such as the MSPAP tests. The MSPAP, or Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, measures the performance of each school, not of individual students. The tests have been given to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders across the state since 1993.

The U.S. Department of Education decided last week that middle schools that receive Title I money must administer the eighth-grade tests. Because Washington County receives Title I money only for elementary schools, the School Board may decide to drop the eighth-grade MSPAP tests, said assistant state superintendent Ron Peiffer.

Title I provides financial assistance to help low-achieving students in schools with a high number of poverty-level students meet high standards of performance.

Morgan said she plans to discuss the matter with School Board members this week.

"There are some compelling reasons to give and not to give the test," she said.

She said Washington County has performed well on the tests and that the tests provide schools with feedback on how they're doing.

"Teachers are prepared. It's the logical conclusion to a year's work," Morgan said. "Probably instructionally, it's the right thing to do."

On the other hand, she said, students might not take the tests seriously this year, which the state says will be the last year eighth-grade MSPAP tests will be given. She also said a new scoring method this year might show differences in the scores when compared to previous years.

A private testing firm is to grade this year's MSPAP tests. Teachers from across the state have graded them in the past, Morgan said.

She said her biggest concern is whether the school system would lose other federal aid besides Title I if the board drops the eighth-grade tests.

"I don't want there to be anything that would put any of our funding in jeopardy," she said.

Peiffer said federal aid other than Title I funding for middle schools would not be affected.

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