MSPAP showdown

Scores: Debate is fine, but it should be about children and education.

January 25, 2002

ALL RIGHT, EVERYONE. Take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. And remember, this is supposed to be about the kids.

Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test scores come out today, and you can already see the battle lines forming.

The test's critics -- who seem to be growing in number and certainly are growing in volume -- are ready to pounce on these scores. The numbers were supposed to be released in December, but were held back to check for potential problems that might have explained wild swings in some schools' performances.

As it turns out, there was no problem with the tests. But the uncertainty and the performance differences will only give momentum to the arguments that MSPAP doesn't really measure anything, hasn't improved schools and ought to be scrapped.

FOR THE RECORD - A Friday editorial should have said MSPAP scores will be released to the public on Monday, Jan. 28. The Sun regrets the error.

On the other side, state education officials will almost certainly have their backs up in anticipation of the criticism. The department so far has been able to weather the attacks on the program and resist any changes, but those days may be ending.

The new federal education bill could force some substantial changes in MSPAP. Implementation of the federal program is being overseen by Christopher J. Doherty, who has been an outspoken critic and has wanted to see changes in the program for a while.

In all of the debate over MSPAP, though, we'd hope everyone keeps his eyes on the goal: improvement of the learning experience for Maryland children.

For critics, that means not simply attacking MSPAP or the Department of Education, but also offering viable alternatives. And by viable, we don't mean a return to the rote curricula and multiple- choice tests of the past.

For the Department of Education, constructive discussion will require that officials perhaps divest themselves somewhat from MSPAP's current configuration. The program is worth defending, to be sure, and we're fans of what MSPAP has done for education in Maryland. But it's not perfect, and some of the changes already suggested make sense.

If, for example, reporting individual scores might help parents understand the program better, why not try it?

The new scores offer a fresh opportunity to revisit the MSPAP debate, but for that to happen, each side probably needs to recognize in the other the desire to make schools better for children.

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