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New testing standards to be set for county students

July 02, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

New standards for county students will be set when the first round of state assessment results roll into the school system's computers next month, a heavy data load Robert Brown hopes to lighten for teachers and administrators.

Brown, coordinator of testing and accountability for Washington County Public Schools, said school officials have been preparing for the release of the Maryland School Assessment proficiency standard by giving teachers easier access to the school system's updated data-tracking computer system, Abacus, and by training a group of specialized teachers to interpret the information the system tracks.

The assessment, given for the first time in March, replaced the former state exam, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program known as MSPAP. It was found by the federal government to be in line with standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind act, Brown said.

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How Maryland students score on the tests will dictate the state standard, he said.

The No Child Left Behind act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and to make sure all students are academically proficient.

Brown is looking to Abacus to track all students in the school system, including those representative of the five ethnic groups and three special services groups the federal act dictates each school system track.

He said the computer system, which was cutting edge 10 years ago, was purchased with grant money in 1999. It started out being used as a curriculum management tool that had a student data tracking package, but with the federal act's emphasis on tracking student progress, school officials have been using it more to keep tabs on test scores, he said.

"The law is about the numbers," he said.

All 45 of the school system's schools now have access to Abacus, Brown said.

He said work is being done to decrease the time it takes a teacher to access student information. Each student has a file complete with a background of test results, the scores of which can be broken down into specific areas that show where a student may or may not need to improve.

He said school officials are seeking a better way to print out a student report so teachers and administrators will be better able to make sense of the standard and to determine where their schools or students are in relation to the standard.

A group of teachers, called Student Achievement Specialists, has been given the task of keeping an even closer eye on students' test scores and identifying ways to help students bring scores up, either by tutoring the students or guiding their teachers.

"If the target moves we have to move along with that," Brown said.

With the MSPAP exam, which mainly measured school improvement, only 70 percent of the school had to be proficient on the test. With the MSAs, which focuses more on student progress, all students must be proficient according to the state standard by 2014, he said.

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