Remaking history with education reform

MSPAP: Evolution will mean changes in teaching and testing throughout the state.

February 02, 2002

THIS IS THE END of an era for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. What a difference a decade makes.

Shifts in federal education policy and public school populations have ensured that Maryland's testing program must change. State school officials are poised to develop curricula, new tests and even the individual student test reports that parents have long demanded.

MSPAP, a national model for school testing, must and will evolve, into a program that we cannot yet envision. The test likely will have more multiple-choice questions. It likely will continue to demand day-to-day teaching focused on problem-solving. What seems certain is the test and the teaching it measures will change, with the goal of staying relevant.

But that's not good enough for Montgomery County school officials, who apparently would rather kill MSPAP. They have questioned the validity of the last round of scores, the scoring process and the test itself. They'd like to ignore the scores, which suggest some of their schools are not performing up to potential.

This is foolhardy: Testing by other tools has produced a similar message of plateauing scores in Montgomery. The county's schools have acknowledged the effect of non-English speakers and poor families.

So the whimpering about the test seems disingenuous, coming at a time when Montgomery is lobbying for an increased share of school funding.

Instead of killing the messenger, why not participate in MSPAP's now-inevitable "reconstitution"?

After a decade of experience with MSPAP, we can all agree on some of its flaws and some of its triumphs.

The program doesn't devote enough time to mastering the basic content necessary to support critical-thinking exercises. But parents want it all: the multiplication tables and their practical uses.

A decade ago, imposing a statewide curriculum would have been regarded as heresy. Now, everyone seems ready for one.

At the same time, we can acknowledge that in a decade, MSPAP moved a mountain, if by a small measure, as it held schools and school systems accountable for the students' performance.

Rewards and consequences have paid off in many school districts. Instead of going their own way, all school systems have writhed under the same MSPAP microscope, creating painful but revealing comparisons, and prompting positive collaborations.

The coming changes to MSPAP present an opportunity for critics and supporters to take a fresh look at old challenges. As MSPAP evolves, school reform should be guided by what's happening in classrooms.

Otherwise, we've wasted our time and missed the message that school reform has tried to drum home for the last decade.

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