Arundel school officials put the best face on test scores Lower MSPAP results called a 'leveling off'

December 18, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school officials are putting the best face on a generally disappointing showing by county schools in Maryland State Performance Assessment Program test scores released to school board members first and then to the public this week.

Overall, 47.1 percent of the county's students performed satisfactorily on this year's MSPAP tests, which are taken each spring by every third- , fifth- and eighth-grade student to measure how well they apply basic knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems.

That compared with 47.3 percent in the previous academic year.

That dip ruined Anne Arundel's record as the sole large school system to show constant, significant overall gains in MSPAP scores since 1993. However, from 1993 through this year, even counting this year's small drop, Anne Arundel's overall performance on the test has improved 10.5 percent.

Specifically, the county schools lost ground between this year and last in reading in third, fifth and eighth grades; in writing in third and fifth grades; in language usage in third, fifth and eighth grades; in math in fifth grade; in science in fifth and eighth grades; and in social studies in fifth grade.

Fifty-seven percent of the 76 county elementary schools showed declines or no improvement in scores on third-grade reading, a crucial measure because students who cannot read well by age 9 generally perform poorly throughout their academic careers.

At the fifth-grade level, 51 percent of the county's 76 elementary schools showed declines or no improvement. Fifth-grade math scores fell or stayed the same in 68 percent of the schools. Third-grade math scores, however, rose in 61 percent of the schools.

Carol S. Parham, the Anne Arundel County schools superintendent, distributed a soothing news release about the testing scores.

"The school system this year experienced a plateau of leveling off in satisfactory performance countywide," she wrote, "a phenomenon experienced by the other large metropolitan systems last year."

She called the leveling off "not particularly troublesome." When she saw the other districts reaching plateaus in recent years, she wrote that she thought "Anne Arundel might experience that same problem."

Parham also said in her statement, "It is important for the public to understand that improvement on a test such as MSPAP is not linear, but occurs in spurts."

One true bright spot could be the testing performance of Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn, Maryland's first failing suburban elementary school.

A total of 13.6 percent of the school's students performed satisfactorily on the state test this year. And while that is dismal compared with the overall county showing of 47.1 percent, it is a jump of 4.8 percentage points over the school's performance in 1995-1996, when only 8.8 percent of students did satisfactorily.

After that awful showing, school officials had said they would watch this year's scores intently. With Van Bokkelen in its second year on the state's poor-performing "alert" list, volunteers have flocked in to help, and the principal has received additional educators charged with getting the school's scores up.

But officials were not crowing about the near 5-point improvement at last night's board meeting.

Nancy M. Mann, assistant superintendent for instruction, said, "We are not supposed to talk about individual school scores until [tomorrow]."

Timothy Dangel, coordinator of research for the schools, said, "We may not know all the answers right now." But more analysis of the school-by-school scores is planned next month.

Mann added, "We know that they are on the right track now, and we can see improvement in school safety and discipline" at Van Bokkelen.

In interviews with 62 students two weeks ago, she heard much enthusiasm for classes.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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