MSPAP friends in right places

The Education Beat

Record: Despite criticism in recent months, the state schools testing program, around more than a decade, is supported by top education and business leaders and won't be easily cast aside.

The Education Beat

January 17, 2001|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WILL MSPAP be zapped?

Not anytime soon. The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has too much support in the right places to be easily discarded or seriously amended.

It has a track record of more than a decade, a major accomplishment in the politicized world of public education. And it has the ardent backing of state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and other top educators, numerous business leaders and Walter Sondheim Jr., who is such an institution that he has a personal listing in the yellow pages. It was the 1989 Sondheim Commission report that set the foundation for MSPAP.

Nevertheless, MSPAP has taken a couple of body blows of late.

First, there was the scathing report of an academic panel commissioned by the Abell Foundation. That group didn't like anything about MSPAP, but specific criticism is hard to come by because the report is under lock and key at State Department of Education headquarters in Baltimore.

We learned more about the report this month in an op-ed article by the Abell panel chairman, Williamson M. Evers of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank on the campus of Stanford University.

MSPAP "is neither an adequate gauge of what the students have learned from their schoolwork nor a test of their critical thinking," Evers wrote.

Grasmick responded in her own op-ed article, saying the Evers report was full of "faulty reasoning and numerous errors."

The official state line on Evers is that this is just one of more than 200 MSPAP studies and the only one that hasn't praised the testing program.

The second blow to MSPAP was buried in last week's coverage of the Maryland Poll, a public opinion survey of 1,200 registered voters commissioned by The Sun and two other news organizations: Only a quarter of Marylanders believe education has improved as a result of MSPAP.

Worse, almost half of Maryland adults with children don't believe MSPAP has made a difference.

This last finding is remarkable because these are people who, presumably, are familiar with MSPAP. Half of them have little faith in the program.

Is it that Marylanders oppose testing? Hardly.

A large majority in the Maryland Poll favors the high school exit tests under development in Grasmick's shop.

Much of the public suspicion is related to the veil of secrecy state officials have wrapped around MSPAP.

So far, only Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Texas release all state tests after every administration, while 17 states release some of their tests, according to a survey by the publication Education Week.

Openness defuses complaints and clears up misunderstanding.

Because the Texas test is wide open, we know a good deal about its good points - and bad. Because thousands of students and teachers see the tests every year, it borders on the bizarre to withhold questions from the people whose answers are subject to rewards and sanctions.

In Phoenix, the Arizona Republic has sued the state education department, arguing that the public has a right to examine the questions in the Arizona test.

In Maryland, the Evers report is secret because it discusses "live" MSPAP items.

If we could examine those items, the Evers document could be released, and we could judge for ourselves.

Barclay principal defends school's MSPAP results

David Clapp, principal of the Barclay School in Baltimore, writes to dispute my claim that his school has little to celebrate about recent MSPAP test results.

"In fact, the opposite is true," he says. "Three years ago, the school was recognized by the state for significant improvement over the previous year. The results were more than double the previous scores. Two years ago, the eighth-grade MSPAP results were second only to Roland Park public."

Clapp also notes that 100 percent of the eighth grade last year passed the Maryland functional reading test, while Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills scores at Barclay were 20 percent above the city average.

Calif. has most schools that are named for King

In the nearly 33 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., 138 schools in the United States have been named for the fallen civil rights leader, according to a Web site called SchoolMatch. California has the most, 27.

Maryland has three.

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