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MSPAP test scores above state average

December 30, 2002|by` PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Public School students performed better than state students on standardized elementary and high school exams, but due to a difference in testing and a difference in scoring, school officials are mixed on how they'll interpret the results.

The Maryland State Department of Education released scores from Maryland High School Assessments, taken by Washington County high school students in January and May, and from MSPAP - Maryland School Performance Assessment Program - tests given to county elementary and middle school students in May.

The High School Assessments, a series of end-of-course exams given to students as they complete high-school level courses, were administered for the first time in state high schools this past spring semester.

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The High School Assessments were scored using a percentile rank, which compared county students' performances against those of state students. For example, a student earning a percentile rank of 60 on the biology assessment has performed as well as or better than 60 percent of all biology test takers.

Compared to a state median, or middle rank, of 50, county students ranks are as follows: Algebra I, 64; Geometry, 57; English 9, 52; Biology, 52; and Government, 50.

The High School Assessment scores released are overall scores for county students. Individual results will be sent home to parents in early January.

Schools Director of Secondary Education Boyd Michael III said of 24 school districts in Maryland, Washington County high school students' scores tied for third in Algebra I, fourth in Geometry, ninth in English, 11th in Biology and 12th in Government.

Eighth-grade students taking Algebra I also took the Algebra portion of the High School Assessment, said Bob Brown, the school system's supervisor of testing and accountability programs.

Brown said other state middle school students taking Algebra I also took the Algebra I portion of the High School Assessments.

Maryland high school students now are required to take the assessments for graduation, but a passing score has not been set yet.

Due to higher standards placed by the federal act No Child Left Behind, which raises the standardized bar for students, teachers and schools, Maryland had to throw out the MSPAP exam last year. Maryland School Assessments will replace MSPAP in March 2003.

Since the High School Assessments have only been given once to students statewide, the state department will wait until after the Spring 2003 test is administered to determine what a passing score is, Brown said.

Passing the assessments will be a graduation requirement beginning with next year's freshman students, Brown said.

County elementary students took MSPAP tests for the last time this past spring and Schools Director of Elementary Education JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown said she worries students may have taken their last shot at the exam less seriously than in other years.

When compared to 2001 MSPAP results, county third-grade students' scores dropped in all six assessed areas - language usage, science, social studies, reading, writing and math - but were still above state averages.

She said MSPAPs were graded by Maryland teachers in the past, but this year the exams were graded by out-of-state scorers unfamiliar with Maryland students, which she sees as a problem.

"Maryland teachers know the curriculum and expectations of a particular grade level," she said. "They would know what a child at that grade level should be performing at."

County fifth-grade students improved scores in language usage, science and social studies this year, but scores in reading, writing and math dropped.

Palkovitz-Brown said county scores are consistent with other counties in the state.

Washington County elected not to have eighth grade students take MSPAPs after the state gave school systems without Title I middle schools the option not to give them, Bob Brown said.

Title I schools are those that receive additional federal funds based on free and reduced priced meals. He said about half the counties in the state also elected not to give the tests.

Palkovitz-Brown said the state used scores in the past to determine whether failing schools needed to be taken over by the state, by placing them into "improvement" status. Hancock and Eastern elementary schools, the only two schools previously under "improvement" status, remain under state supervision after the release of this year's MSPAP scores.

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