Making sense of MSA science tests

Science results do not count toward Adequate Yearly Progress for Washington County Public Schools

August 14, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

WILLIAMSPORT — The percentage of Williamsport Elementary School’s fifth-graders who scored proficient or advanced on the Maryland School Assessment science test increased from 67 percent in 2010 to 82.1 percent in the last school year.

Opinions differ as to whether the size of the fifth-grade class from year to year influenced the improvement. In 2010, 67 out of 100 students scored at least at the proficient level, and in 2011, 69 out of 84 students scored at least proficient, according to the Maryland State Department of Education’s website at

It takes a team effort to experience such improvement because fifth-graders are being tested on science concepts they learned during earlier grades, too, Principal Jana Palmer said.

“It starts with strong instruction in kindergarten and building on that,” Palmer said.

Palmer also attributes the improvement to an instructional change that began in the last school year. Instead of the fifth-grade teachers teaching every subject, one teacher was responsible for teaching most fifth-grade science and social studies classes.

That allowed for more focused instruction, Palmer said.

The English language-arts teachers also imbedded science and social studies into reading and writing exercises, a continuation of similar cross-disciplinary lessons from previous years, she said.

At 14 of 24 Washington County public elementary schools and four of eight middle schools, the percentage of students who scored at least “proficient” on the test increased, according to

Unlike the math and reading Maryland School Assessment results, the science results do not count toward meeting adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for the school system, individual schools or demographic subgroups at the schools.

Sandy Graff, supervisor of secondary science, told board members Aug. 2 that there is no plan to have the science test results count toward AYP in the future.

The reading and math tests are given in grades three through eight, while the science tests are given in grades five and eight.

Fifth-graders are tested on science they learn from kindergarten through fifth grade, with emphasis on fourth- and fifth-grade science, Graff said.

Eighth-graders are tested on science they learn in grades six to eight, Graff said.

This includes ecology, astronomy, earth structures, cells, genetics, some basic physics, electricity, magnetism, sound and light, chemistry and weather, she said.

Science teachers in elementary and middle schools have received training in recent years to give more emphasis on hands-on and inquiry-based instruction so students are learning how scientists think, and how they would approach and solve a problem, Graff said.

There is less memorization and a greater understanding of concepts and relationships, and more problem-solving, analysis and critical thinking, Graff said.

For middle schools, 2010-11 was the first school year for the instructional change, she said. Elementary school teachers went through similar training about six years ago.

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