Parents start a push to boycott MSPAP test

Pupils' basic skills not being measured properly, group says

September 07, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

A group of Anne Arundel County parents is organizing a statewide boycott of Maryland's student performance test, saying it doesn't measure the basic skills that are the foundation of knowledge.

The parents plan to keep their children home during the five days in May when the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test is given to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders.

A pupil who misses four or five days of the test is given a score of zero, slightly lowering the school's average score. The parents organizing the boycott hope that enough pupils will skip the test to render every school's results meaningless.

"The test is not about skills," said Del. Janet Greenip, a Crofton Republican who is leading the boycott effort. "It's not about whether children can add or subtract, multiply or divide, or know anything about geography or history or science. It's about whether they can expound upon things and write a paragraph that the scorers are looking for. It's about working in groups."

Ron Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said yesterday that while the test does stress group work and long-form writing over straightforward multiple-choice questions, it incorporates basic knowledge into the six subject areas tested.

The boycott was conceived last week at a Maryland Educational Summit sponsored by Greenip at Anne Arundel Community College. She said at least a dozen families plan to participate and that she will canvass the state for more.

Peiffer said that every year since MSPAP testing began in 1991, some parents have tried boycotts, but their numbers were always so small that it didn't affect the scores of their children's schools.

He said the parents organizing the boycott would have more influence by talking to members of the "visionary panel" created by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to evaluate the test. The panel of educators, parents and business leaders has been meeting since spring and will soon issue a rough draft of its findings, he said.

"There is a serious intent on the part of the superintendent to take a real hard look at this thing this year," Peiffer said. "There will be changes."

The MSPAP is designed to measure how well schools teach curriculum, rather than to chart individual performance. Schools that perform well get bonus money.

Pupils never find out how they did on the test, Greenip said, so some don't take it seriously. It also is of no help to parents, she said.

"I want parents to know what level their child is reading on, whether they're better at adding or subtracting," she said. "That's the knowledge parents need to evaluate their students and their school."

Greenip said she plans to hold more summits around the state to spread word of the planned boycott, though none have been scheduled yet.

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