Cutting through the MSPAP spin

January 28, 2002|By Phil Greenfield

NOW THAT the state's Visionary Panel for Better Schools has issued its final report, detonating what was left of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program's original format, an awful lot of spins are being spun by our educational bureaucrats.

So as a longtime student of the Orwellian Edu-Speak favored by my taskmasters, allow me to take some comments already made - or likely to be made - and translate them into English for the edification of my fellow citizens:

"MSPAP should be extensively revised to express the performance of individual pupils as well as entire schools."

Translation: All right, already. We've finally accepted what everyone in Maryland outside The Sun's editorial boardroom already knows: The test isn't working as advertised.

Yes, we're sick of the "grade the schools, not the kids" nonsense we've paralyzed ourselves with for the past 12 years. Even the feds are wise to it.

Maybe Domino's and Papa John's will miss the old MSPAP, since without a pizza party, no self-respecting eighth-grader would even open the darn booklet. The rest of us will be thrilled to see it die.

"We must dramatically accelerate student achievement."

Translation: For all the noise we've made about revolutionizing instruction across the state, our recalcitrant, unprepared students - and we have a lot of them - are as recalcitrant and unprepared as ever.

Were we ever so dewy-eyed as to think that inventing "Core Learning Goals" and attaching them to some dopey "Student Outcomes" was going to lead a school like Northern High to the Promised Land? Yeah, we were.

So that sucking sound you just heard was 12 years of wasted time and God knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars being flushed down the hole of bureaucratic naivetM-i. Back to square one.

"After all, Maryland still leads the nation in establishing standards and accountability for public schools."

Translation: OK, we're lying through our teeth, but this is politics and we're trying to grab onto something positive for public consumption. We were blasted so thoroughly on the content and grading of the MSPAP by our very own in-house investigation that, a year later, our leadership still hasn't had the guts to release that report to the public.

The lack of student accountability on our MSPAP has turned test preparation into an annual statewide workshop on bribery of the young while Sherlock Holmes himself couldn't detect the presence of real algebraic equations in our fledgling High School Assessment for Algebra. This is national leadership? The phrase sounds pretty good, though.

"If you don't have a statewide curriculum, your testing system is a mystery. What you are testing should be understood by teachers, students and parents."

Translation: "It's hard to believe we blew this one. Of course, we should have had a state curriculum first and then worked in a testing program to evaluate the kids once everyone was on the same page. We did it backward, which wound up killing us because the teachers and parents were never on board from day one. What were we thinking?"

"We will certify only teachers who demonstrate high levels of knowledge and teaching skills."

Translation: Guess a pulse won't do it, huh? Sure wish we could hire back the many hundreds of experienced teachers who retired in disgust over the very program we're now in the process of gutting.

"High-performing schools should receive as much scrutiny as low-performing schools do. No school, no teacher, should be allowed to rest on their laurels."

Translation: At the state board, we still carry a lot of bureaucratic dead weight whose jobs we have to justify. So those same head-in-the-clouds "specialists" we sent out to shill for the now discredited MSPAP back in the 1990s will be coming to your schools again to share even more of their, er, expertise.

"We are recommending that the state commit itself to spending $1.1 billion on our new plan."

Translation: After this fiasco, could Kathleen Kennedy Townsend really prove gullible enough to fund us? Well, she'll be new, and there's always the General Assembly. Here's hoping the kids aren't the only ones with Attention Deficit Disorder.

"We are pleased to be leading Maryland's educational reform program at this pivotal juncture in the history of our state."

Translation: Pleased? Ecstatic is more like it. In a competitive, more democratic two-party system with an alert legislature, we'd all be having new resumes printed. Maryland, my Maryland.

Phil Greenfield teaches at Annapolis High School in Anne Arundel County.

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