Fates of Md. elementary, middle schools are in hands of 600 MSPAP test scorers Teachers follow strict rules in grading 174,000 exams

July 14, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The child was an anonymous seven-digit number to her, but Lisa Hunzeker judged the third-grader's test answers last week with high stakes in mind.

Hunzeker is among 600 teachers whose summer job is to score && the 174,000 tests that third-, fifth- and eighth-graders took in May the Maryland School Performance and Assessment Program (MSPAP).

She and about 200 other teachers have been working since June 24 in classrooms at Randallstown High School. An additional 400 teachers are grading tests at three other schools in Mount Hebron, Waldorf and Cambridge. Their work will end in about two weeks.

Now in its sixth year, MSPAP has become the single most important measuring stick used by state officials to gauge the success of every Maryland elementary and middle school.

As a result of this test, schools' curricula have been changed, principals have been fired and state funds have been granted. The state even has threatened to take over some low-performing schools in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel County.

"You want to be able to give the students as much credit as you can for the answer," Hunzeker said as she deciphered the third-grader's cursive.

Teachers don't know the identities of test takers, their schools or even their counties.

Before the scoring began, the 174,000 booklets were trucked to and from a California firm, where the booklets were assigned numbers and randomly mixed into boxes regardless of school or county. A thick white label conceals the names of the students and schools.

Each test is scored by four teachers, each grading a separate aspect. Aides shuttle the test booklets among the teachers, grouped 15 to a room.

After scoring, the booklets will go back to California to be stored for one year, while educators hold their breath until Dec. 12 -- the day that the results of this round of tests will be announced.

"As I'm scoring, I think of different things I can do in my own classes to help students do better," says Hunzeker, who last school year taught vision-impaired children at Baltimore's Cross Country Elementary School and will begin a new job in Wicomico County this fall.

Hunzeker's sense of how her teaching can benefit from grading the tests is the reason the state recruits teachers to do the scoring -- an unusual practice nationwide. Most states use private contractors for scoring large-scale testing programs.

The MSPAP tests are designed to shift the emphasis of daily classroom work to problem-solving and writing and away from rote learning. The tests therefore can be tricky to grade, and teachers are quick to point out weaknesses they see.

This year, Hunzeker noticed many students missing a question about symmetry. She missed it herself, during her training, when she wrote an answer that did not match what she thought was a rather narrow definition -- one that required the words "fold" and "match" to be used.

She will make a note of the symmetry question on a feedback form all of the scorers fill out when they finish their work.

Teachers undergo three days of training before grading the tests, using students' answers from past tests. Their work is checked for consistency.

The rate of "exact agreement," in which the scorers' work matches guidelines and fellow team members' work, is 87 percent, says Gail Goldberg, a specialist in test development for the Maryland State Department of Education. She said that is high compared even with professional scoring firms.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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