MSPAP scores please Harford educators Better instruction is noted as performance improves countywide

December 14, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Three years ago, Harford County eighth-graders ranked 14th in Maryland on the state's annual achievement exams.

This year, they jumped to sixth on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests, which county educators say signals improving instruction in Harford schools.

The overall performance of Harford students ranked them fourth in the state, the same ranking the county has had since 1995, behind Howard, Carroll and Calvert counties.

"Significant and sometimes painful changes have been made in the middle school curriculum to allow us to climb to a more respectable place among the state's school systems," Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky said at a news conference Thursday at Magnolia Middle School. "We know we can get better, and that's what MSPAP is helping us do."

The MSPAP is intended to assess the thinking skills of third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in reading, math, social studies, science, writing and language. It does that by asking students to apply basic skills to real-life problems, often calling on them to work together in groups to solve questions. The tests are given each spring.

Overall, 53.6 percent of Harford students performed satisfactorily on the exams, 1.4 percentage points more than in 1996. In Maryland, 41.8 percent of students scored satisfactory or better.

Since 1993, Harford students have improved 15.2 percentage points, posting the seventh-largest gain among Maryland's 24 school districts.

Harford educators were particularly pleased with the reading scores of third-graders -- the second-highest in Maryland, with 51.1 scoring satisfactory.

The state's goal is for 70 percent of all students in Maryland to score satisfactory or better on MSPAP by 2000.

A school is deemed to have reached a satisfactory level when 70 percent of its students score satisfactory or better on all tests.

Seventeen of Harford's 40 elementary and middle schools reached the satisfactory level in at least one test area.

"The MSPAP has had a great impact on the way we look at instruction, far more than any other initiative I have seen in my 20 years in education," said Joe Mascari, principal of Magnolia Middle. "When I hear people say we are dummying down the curriculum, I get a little upset. I think we are doing just the opposite. MSPAP has forced us to raise the level of expectations for all students."

In addition to the MSPAP test results, the Harford schools also released school report cards on other general education areas.

While attendance slipped for the first time in five years, the system's high school dropout rate continues to decline. Harford ninth- and 11th-graders also performed at an excellent or satisfactory level on all functional exams, which test basic skills required for graduation.

Grotsky said Harford's results improved even though the system ranks 17th in Maryland in per-pupil funding. The schools spend $5,858 per student, compared with a state average of $6,446.

If Harford schools spent the state average, it would add $23 million to the district's $203 million budget, Grotsky said.

"Think of what we could do to reduce class size, buy more technology, conduct more staff development, have more schoolwide enrichment activities, do more for our underprivileged students -- things we know would help us to do a better job," he said.

In Harford, 17.4 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches -- an indication of the number of students who come from low-income families -- compared with a state average of 30.9 percent.

Middle school test scores

This table shows how Harford County eighth-graders fared in tests given as part of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The reading and math groups at the left show what percentage of students performed at a satisfactory level over the past four years in tests that are designed to show how well they can apply what they've learned in the classroom. The columns labeled 96-97 show the percentage point gain between the 1996 and 1997 school years. The three columns at the right show what percentage of students passed functional tests designed to measure the most basic skills in 1997.

MSPAP reading

................... 97 ..... 96 ..... 95 ..... 96-97

Aberdeen .......... 26.4 ... 19.7 ... 19.4 ... 6.7

Bel Air ........... 30.8 ... 36.8 ... 44.5 ... -6.0

Burleigh Manor .... 49.3 ... 57.9 ... 57.7 ... -8.6

Edgewood .......... 17.5 ... 28.3 ... 25.7 ... -10.8

Fallston .......... 40.5 ... 43.0 ... 39.5 ... -2.5

Havre De Grace .... 25.7 ... 32.7 ... 29.7 ... -7.0

Magnolia .......... 26.3 ... 33.1 ... 29.0 ... -6.8

North Harford ..... 24.8 ... 26.8 ... 36.3 ... -2.0

Southampton ....... 53.7 ... 49.3 ... 53.2 ... 4.4

MSPAP math

................... 97 ..... 96 ..... 95 ..... 96-97

Aberdeen .......... 41.7 ... 36.0 ... 34.0 ... 5.7

Bel Air ........... 65.4 ... 64.9 ... 69.6 ... 0.5

Burleigh Manor .... 82.1 ... 79.8 ... 78.6 ... 2.3

Edgewood .......... 39.7 ... 50.3 ... 40.3 ... -10.6

Fallston .......... 78.8 ... 73.8 ... 65.6 ... 5.0

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