City MSPAP scores up for fifth straight year

Gain of 2 points 2nd-biggest among state school systems

January 29, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system continued its slow but steady progress on state tests last year, posting its fifth straight increase and outgaining every other jurisdiction except one in Maryland.

The percentage of city pupils meeting the standard on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program exams rose 2 points, to 22.5.

In every other school system in the metropolitan area, scores dropped, and the statewide average fell 1.6. Only Worcester County's gain was larger than Baltimore's.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article Jan. 29 about Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test scores, The Sun mischaracterized the views of Ivy M. Hill, principal of Rognel Heights Elementary-Middle School in Baltimore. Hill said she believes Achievement First, a reform model widely used in the city, has helped to improve the teaching of reading and writing at her school. The Sun regrets the error.

At two city elementaries, Pimlico and Dr. Rayner Browne, a significant percentage of tests were thrown out because teachers improperly coached students.

Five teachers at Pimlico, the city's top scorer last year, have been given 20-day suspensions without pay, and the principal and two administrators have received letters of reprimand, said Carmen V. Russo, the schools' schools' chief executive officer. Russo said one class at Dr. Rayner Browne was involved in the cheating, but she offered no details.

The city system, which began a comprehensive reform effort in conjunction with the state in 1997, still ranks last in pupil achievement in Maryland. But Russo said Baltimore pupils are showing consistent improvement, proof that extra state funding has been wisely spent.

"The good news is that the gap is closing," she said. "Are we where we want to be? Not yet."

Two of the three low-performing elementaries taken over in 2000 by the state and run by for-profit Edison Schools lost ground in their first round of MSPAP scores since the takeover. At one, Furman L. Templeton, no third-grader scored satisfactory in reading or math for the second straight year.

The city's trend upward has been systemwide. Third- and fifth-graders at 109 of the city's 120 elementary schools have improved on the state tests since the 1996-1997 school year. Eighth-graders at 37 of 44 middle schools improved over the same period.

On the latest exams, third-grade reading scores declined by 1.1 points and third-grade math scores were up 6.1 points. Fifth-grade reading and math scores were up 1.9 points and 2.5 points, respectively. Eighth-grade reading scores were up 1.1 points and math scores were down 0.5.

Rognel Heights Elementary-Middle School had the top-scoring eighth-graders in math. Almost 63 percent passed, compared with 5.5 percent four years before.

Principal Ivy M. Hill said the intensive teacher training provided by Achievement First, a reform model widely used in the city, has helped raise scores across the board.

Tony D. Barnes, principal of Hamilton Elementary-Middle School, said another factor is smaller class size. His school, with some of the city's top-scoring third- and eighth-graders, surpassed the state average for the first time.

"We are very happy in the city," he said. "We are dealing with the most difficult students. We believe all children can learn, but children need certain needs taken care of before they can learn. It is good to see Baltimore City shine."

Elementaries with the largest gains were Cecil, City Springs, Montebello, Charles Carroll Barrister and Federal Hill.

The composite score at City Springs, run by the Baltimore Curriculum Project using the scripted teaching program Direct Instruction, rose 23.5 points, to 42.4, which got it removed from the state's list of failing schools. Only one other city school, Pimlico Elementary, has ever been taken off that list.

At Pimlico, dozens of third- and fifth-grade tests were invalidated because of "teacher interference" that was discovered when some test answers were found to be similar, the state reported. The overall score at Pimlico, which had a new principal, fell from 69.3 to 25.3.

The sharp drop resulted in part from 57 tests with scores of zero. Russo said that even without the invalid tests, there would have been "slippage" at the school.

A little more than a third of fifth-grade results from Dr. Rayner Browne were invalidated, also because of improper teacher assistance, the state said. The overall score there rose 11 points, to 26.1.

Pimlico's former principal, Sarah Horsey, left the city system in 2000 to head Montebello Elementary, the only Edison school to improve on the most recent exams. Montebello's gain was 22.5 points. At the other two Edison schools, the percentage of children meeting the state standard fell, from 4.4 to 2.3 - at Furman L. Templeton and from 12.9 to 9.2 at Gilmor.

Russo said the system's overall gains would not have been possible without extra funding from the state.

Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

Baltimore elementary schools

This table shows composite index scores for Baltimore elementary schools over the past seven years under the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The composite is roughly equivalent to the percentage of students who scored at a satisfactory level on the MSPAP tests. The last column shows the percentage point change since 1995.


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