Lessons from MSPAP Statewide exams: Now, educators put to the test -- translating results in the classroom.

December 17, 1996

CRITICS OF public education often complain of an overabundance of testing, but Maryland parents, educators and elected leaders are fortunate to live in one of the few states that provides a valid means of gauging the strengths and weaknesses of schools and of entire school systems.

The six-year-old Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has proven a strong indicator of how well schools are teaching middle and elementary students to apply knowledge of the basic disciplines.

The latest results prompt several observations:

Third-graders are doing poorly in math, science and especially social studies, where results showed a precipitous drop. Why?

With the exception of Anne Arundel, improvement in all the large counties has stagnated. Because of their size and diversity, performance will vary from area to area in a way not seen in smaller jurisdictions. Results from similar schools are more useful than overall county statistics.

Rural schools are doing quite well, even poor ones. While smallness of these systems obviously makes their problems more manageable than those of an urban system, educators should look closely at what's going on in counties such as Caroline. Can any of their successes in poor areas be duplicated in the city?

Along these same lines, educators should examine any school that is doing unusually well, particularly those that do not fit the pattern of high performance in wealthy, upper-income neighborhoods. Baltimore County's Fullerton Elementary, in a middle-income, working-class area, is one of only four elementaries with 70 percent of third-graders scoring satisfactorily on all six tests. Whatever it is doing right, other schools should know about it.

The Department of Education's goal of having 70 percent of students in each elementary and middle school score satisfactorily on all six tests by 2000 remains idealistic. But whether the state meets its goal in 2000 is less important than whether performance is steadily improving. MSPAP shows most schools are doing better, and that more will reach state standards by 2000 than many thought possible when the program began. To that extent, education reform -- and accountability -- seems to be working.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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