A Mizpap path to success

The Education Beat

Method: Leith Walk Elementary incorporates elements of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program into almost every area. Its test scores are improving.

October 20, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WHAT'S A MIZPAP? Well, Marylanders from Oakland to Smith Island know about Mizpaps. The common pronunciation of the acronym for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) can be used as a noun, adjective or verb.

As in, "Let's Mizpap that assignment."

Last week, I found a school that's been more thoroughly Mizpapped than any other in my wide acquaintance. Leith Walk Elementary in Northeast Baltimore has infused elements of the state's performance program into virtually everything it does.

"We eat, sleep and think Mizpap," says Annie Davis, a fifth-grade teacher.

"Mizpap is not a subject," says Principal Edna Greer. "It's a way of thinking."

Throughout the sprawling school, Baltimore's largest elementary with 1,100 pupils, children are learning to employ "higher-order thinking skills." They're taught to analyze and predict, keep journals, write critical essays, construct graphs and work in groups, all part of the Mizpap recipe.

Want to go on a field trip? To be chosen, you have to write Greer a letter making your case. Back from summer vacation? Write an essay about it, telling what you enjoyed most and least.

Fifth-graders are reading Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Before they're done, they'll have thoroughly discussed the word "legend" -- what it means and who's entitled to the designation. (Good question. Is Pete Rose a legend? Bill Clinton?)

Greer has installed a "Hall of Legends" where photographs of legends chosen by her pupils are on display. Among Leith Walk's legends: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Rep. Elijah E. Cummings; pupils' parents and pastors; a neighbor who sweeps the alley; last year's student council president; the late city educator Rebecca Carroll; and Greer's mother, Thelma Dorsey Jackson, 88, a regular volunteer at Leith Walk.

That's only the beginning of "Sleepy Hollow" Mizpappia. The young readers will be called upon to complete a "character chart" by listing five traits of Ichabod Crane and then explaining their choices. Then they'll compare Ichabod to a main character with a Venn diagram -- an exercise in logic employing overlapping circles. Still more: a "sequence chain" that lists six events that result from Ichabod's disappearance. Not an easy assignment.

It's a Mizpap world at Leith Walk, and even the children speak Mizpappian. Fifth-grader Arron Savage, 10, speaks of "Mizpap outcomes" and of how he's learning to "read to perform a task." Classmate Lacrisha Coates, also 10, describes the "tally charts" used to "list categories of what most people like."

Savage, Coates and many of their classmates attend an after-school "Mizpap Academy" two days a week.

Art and music are infused with Mizpap, too. Ledell Flynn's art pupils are designing tennis shoes. In the old days -- assuming they could find the materials in a city public school to carry out such a project -- the shoes would have been designed and displayed, and that would have been the end of it.

Not in Flynn's classroom. Here, they have to write letters to their parents to inform them of the project. Then, when the design is complete, they write commercials for the designs and present them to the class. It's part of Mizpap's emphasis on persuasive writing.

Leith Walk's campaign has paid off. The school's composite Mizpap score increased 7 percentage points last year, enough to earn a certificate of recognition from state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

But Greer knows that no principal can rest on her laurels. Some things are out of a principal's control. For example, mobility among city students is so high that Leith Walk has had 100 pupils transfer in from other city schools since the school year began. Many haven't been Mizpapped.

She'll know next month how well Leith Walk third- and fifth-graders did on the 1999 Mizpaps. "I'm well aware," says Greer, "that in this business you can get a prize one month and be put on the reconstitution-eligible list literally the next month. So I'm not bragging."

Define "apprehensive," and write a short essay telling why a Maryland principal might feel that way.

Majority in Class of 1998 attending college out of state

The Maryland Higher Education Commission has been surveying the state's high-ability high school graduates since 1990.

The findings for the Class of 1998: 51 percent chose independent out-of-state colleges and universities. The campuses selected most frequently were Yale, Princeton, Brown, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Forty-one percent of the brightest students chose Maryland public and independent colleges, compared with 35 percent in 1990. The University of Maryland, College Park continues to recruit the largest proportion of high-ability students, 22 percent last year.

Western Maryland College dedicates science center

On Saturday, Western Maryland College in Westminster formally dedicated a $13.4 million science center, a four-story, 50,000-square-foot building with floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

Of the total, $3.5 million came from a state grant.

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