Baltimore County's MSPAP challenge State tests: System shows progress, but middle schools need to focus on reading.

January 03, 1996

SKEPTICS MAY CLAIM that Maryland school children are simply learning more about how to take tests rather than learning more, but the performances of Baltimore County students in the latest year of statewide testing show definite improvement. The question, as in most of the other 23 Maryland school systems, is whether that progress is being made fast enough.

By now, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program is well enough established to mute criticisms that teachers and schools don't know how to prepare their pupils for taking the test. The exam aims to measure problem-solving and thinking skills of children and their ability to apply knowledge to "real-life" problems. It has been administered since 1991.

The main purpose of the MSPAP test is to target schools that jTC need improvement in instruction, rather than ranking individual pupils. But with fewer than half the tested students in Baltimore County achieving a satisfactory rating -- the total average was not quite 45 percent -- there's ample room for betterment in nearly all the schools.

The state has set a goal of 70 percent of students achieving satisfactory (or higher) ratings by 2000; this year's state average was only 40 percent.

Elementary school pupils in the county seem to have a better grasp of math and science than they do of reading and writing, as measured by the MSPAP results. Those areas of comprehension and expression will need particular attention -- not just to meet the state minimums, but to ensure that these schoolchildren are better prepared to cope with the challenges of a lifetime.

Middle school results show improvement, but they are still the most troubling because there is precious little time left in their secondary schooling to attain the critical thinking and expressive skills that are required for success. And what are educators to make of results that show strength in language arts, but exceptional weakness in reading for this grade level?

MSPAP is only one measure of educational performance. It's not the end-all of a public school education. But it can provide helpful guidance in improving the education of our children for tomorrow.

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