Schools edge nearer goal on MSPAP Overall upward trend is focus despite decline in some areas

Some scores 'encouraging'

A third of elementaries meeting at least one test standard

December 20, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

No Anne Arundel County school posted satisfactory scores in all subjects at three grade levels on this year's state tests, but more schools are nearing the passing score of 70.

In releasing scores for individual schools yesterday, school officials cautioned against reading too much into one-year changes. Instead, they focused on an overall upward trend.

The tests, known as the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), are the centerpiece of a statewide reform program started in 1990. The tests gauge progress in reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies and language usage in third, fifth and eighth grades.

In those, the number of schools that approached or met the satisfactory and excellent standards in at least one subject climbed since 1993. One-third of the 76 elementary schools have reached at least one standard. Middle schools, generally troubled, are not improving as rapidly and are getting an overhaul.

School officials are encouraged by the fifth-grade math scores, which average 63.2, an impressive jump from the 1993 score of 48.7.

"It's possible next year we might meet the math standard. We don't know; it's close," said Timothy Dangel, Anne Arundel research director.

Last year, Davidsonville, Mayo, Benfield and Shipley's Choice elementaries passed all third-grade tests, and Jones Elementary passed all fifth-grade tests.

At Mayo Elementary, Principal Victoria Waidner said that because her students came quite close to the satisfactory levels, she was not terribly upset. Mayo led the school system by reaching the satisfactory level in nine of the 12 areas. Mayo is widely recognized for high achievement and will be one of the schools county officials descend upon in the spring to determine whether what works there can be applied at other schools.

Dangel said that although more teachers are better trained and have adjusted their teaching to the skills used in MSPAP, there are myriad interventions and correlations that might make a difference.

L "We have data. We need to make it information," Dangel said.

Waidner, who ticked off a long list of reasons her students do so well, said it is also in the way the puzzle pieces interlock.

"There is very low staff turnover. There is very low student turnover. There is a lot of focusing on our school goals here," she said.

But Mayo also has celebrations of every achievement, parent involvement other principals envy and a close-knit staff.

At Davidsonville, Principal Jeanne Paglee was so disturbed over declines in scores in two subjects that she has an appointment set for early January with Dangel.

"In third grade, it was disappointing that we did not make satisfactory. It's social studies that took the dip there. The curriculum remained the same, the materials remained the same, the teacher remained the same. I don't know how to explain that," she said.

Fifth-grade reading scores dipped from 67.1 to 54.7, but Paglee thought she could pinpoint that.

"Our fifth grade last year had 16 students new to the school and 33, 34 in a class. We had larger classes than we had in the past, and many [new students] were from out of state," she said.

This year's scores include wide fluctuations for which there is no easy explanation. It could be the tasks on the test, the changing students, even the size of the groups the children were in, state education officials said.

"I play the piano. Some days I play better than others," Dangel said.

Superintendent Carol S. Parham would not discuss individual schools' performances and cautioned parents against overreacting to minor fluctuations. She also warned against becoming complacent.

Anne Arundel is the only large school system in the state to have made steady progress on the tests, gaining 10.7 percentage points overall since 1993.

"My concern is that as a community, we are not lured into a false sense of security about our resources," she said. "It's a real testament to the quality of the staff we have that we have done so well with so little."

Elementary schools making the greatest gains were South Shore, George Cromwell, Eastport, West Annapolis and Meade Heights.

Meade Heights was the sleeper. Its past performance landed it on an internal school system "alert list," meaning scores were perilously poor. More than half of its students were receiving free or reduced-priced lunches, a measure of poverty.

But this year, some of its scores doubled or tripled.

Principal Scott Doran said that what seems like an overnight jump was five years in the making.

"Everything sort of came together last year," she said.

What made the big immediate difference was using federal Title I money last year to provide a second teacher in grades two through five for reading and math, she said.

Elementary schools making the greatest steady progress over the past four years were Glen Burnie Park, Deale and West Annapolis.

At West Annapolis, where nearly half of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, Principal Joan Briscoe's list of changes at the school reads like a complete overhaul. It also includes daily homework that involves reading and writing, and building students' confidence in their work.

The most improved middle schools were Severna Park, Old Mill South, Central and Corkran, said Dangel.

Only two high schools, North County and Meade, met the dropout standard of 3 percent, although the countywide dropout rate declined slightly, from 5.1 percent to 4.9 percent.

Four middle schools and five high schools failed to meet the attendance standard, but the county schools as a whole did.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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