State to post test scores

Expert evaluation validates results of 2001 MSPAP

`The nation's very best'

Some area principals received early look

city awaits release

January 24, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Statewide school-by-school scores from the 2001 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program will be released Monday after a six-week investigation gave the tests a clean bill of health, state officials announced yesterday.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who had delayed the scores' release Nov. 27 because of unexplained "wild swings" in scores at some schools, said MSPAP results would be made public with no changes from the original scoring, conducted by 700 to 800 Maryland teachers last summer.

She said she was satisfied that an investigation by two researchers from the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment amounts to "an affirmation of [MSPAP] procedures and results."

In a phone interview yesterday, Richard Hill, one of the center researchers, said none of the changes in the MSPAP tests from 2000 to 2001 could account for score fluctuations of more than two points, a normal "margin of error."

He said other factors - such as changes in schools' teaching methods or the compositions of their student bodies or teaching forces - might have accounted for the unusual scoring patterns that prompted the probe.

Brian Gong, another researcher from the national center, added that Grasmick and her staff asked for an examination of MSPAP's construction, its administration, scoring procedures and the degree to which one year's set of tests "equates" with the next. All of these elements were found to be strong, Gong said.

Hill said, "We came quickly to the conclusion that if there were errors in the tests, it would have affected all schools in the state, but we found none."

Experts at the state education agency and the University of Maryland, as well as a panel of four local superintendents - at least two of whom had complained to Grasmick last fall about score irregularities - aided Hill and Gong in their research. Grasmick took a chance when she ordered a delay in releasing the results, the first such delay in the decade-long history of MSPAP, said Steven Ferrara, a testing authority at the Washington-based American Institutes for Research. "She had the courage to say, `Stop, let's see if there are errors.' Apparently there are not," he said.

The MSPAP exams are given every spring to all of the state's third-, fifth- and eighth-graders. Unlike traditional standardized tests of basic skills, MSPAP tests call for pupils to apply their knowledge, completing performance "tasks" that require higher-order thinking.

Maryland gives one of the nationally standardized exams, the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills in grades two, four and six. Those statewide scores, delayed with MSPAP, also will be released at noon Monday as Grasmick gives her annual "state of Maryland education" speech, though some school districts have made those scores public.

"Our first duty is to maintain confidence in the test and in our testing procedures," Grasmick said. "The report from the national center tells us again that our assessment program is among the nation's very best."

That didn't convince Jennifer Robinson, a Baltimore County parent and frequent MSPAP critic.

"The report does no such thing," Robinson said. "Dr. Grasmick should abandon such partisan rhetoric and begin a new era in Maryland reform."

Release of the scores was a relief to Baltimore principals, who have yet to see the 2001 MSPAP results for their schools. Some districts such as Howard County released MSPAP scores to principals and swore them to secrecy after Grasmick ordered the delay.

In Baltimore County, principals got the chance to see their schools' scores and then were ordered to return them to Towson headquarters. "That was extremely unfair to us," said Edna Greer, principal of Leith Walk Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore. "I'm sitting here in one of the biggest elementary schools in the state - we have a thousand kids - and I still haven't heard anything from a test taken eight months ago. How can I plan?"

Sheila Kolman, president of Baltimore's Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, said school leaders elsewhere in Maryland have had a six-week lead in using MSPAP scores to "figure out their strong points and weak points and plan for this year's testing. Here we're the catch-up district, and we don't have the information we need to catch up."

Under the 5-year-old city-state partnership, Grasmick has influence in the operation of Baltimore schools. She said through a spokesman that she had urged the system's chief executive officer, Carmen V. Russo, not to send scores to the schools because she "had no confidence until this week that the numbers were valid."

The test will undergo major revisions in the next few years.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President Bush two weeks ago, will require that MSPAP scores be used to measure the performance of individual pupils. They judge only the performance of schools.

And a seventh-grade test will be added to comply with the law's requirement that children in grades three through eight be tested in reading and math.

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