School board targets MSPAP

Panel calls on state to end reliance upon embattled exam

February 14, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Following in the footsteps of colleagues in Montgomery County, Carroll County's Board of Education called on state education officials last night to halt Maryland's elementary and middle school testing program because of concerns about its reliability.

The five-member panel voted to send a letter of protest - nearly identical to the one sent a week ago by Montgomery County school board President Reginald M. Felton and Vice President Patricia B. O'Neill - to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Hoping to amplify its importance and make clear that the local board is in full agreement on the issue, all five members of the Carroll board are expected to sign the letter.

"Out of consideration for the folks in our schools who are scratching their heads over these scores ... and then in two months have to do it all over again [and give students the 2002 MSPAP exams], I think we need to do something," said Susan Holt, the Carroll board's vice president.

Montgomery was the first large school system to break ranks over the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, charging that this year's test results were flawed because of technical errors and the way they are scored.

The last batch of results - released last month after being delayed by state officials who found surprising fluctuations in the scores of many individual schools - showed decreases in 20 of Maryland's 24 districts.

In Carroll, test scores fell in 13 of 18 areas, marking the second consecutive year and the second overall since MSPAP began in 1993 that Carroll has placed outside the top four school systems. This year, the 28,000-student system fell from seventh to ninth.

A review by outside researchers detected no significant problems, and state officials said the scores show pupil achievement has reached a plateau. The day that scores were released, however, Grasmick announced plans to make significant changes in the exams over the next three years.

Given each spring to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders, the assessments are far different from standardized, multiple-choice tests with traditional fill-in-the-bubble score sheets that are run through a computerized scoring machine.

Like the Montgomery school board members, the Carroll board has asked that the exams be stopped while the testing program is evaluated and changed.

"There is widespread agreement that MSPAP needs to change," the letter from Carroll - borrowing from Montgomery County's letter - states. "But what happens in the meantime? Why should thousands of students and teachers be required to go through one, two or three more years of a controversial testing program with disputed results while we wait for a new test?"

In other business, the Carroll school board:

Unanimously voted to require all 38 county schools to begin the school day with a moment of silence during opening exercises.

Unanimously approved a policy that allows students to have cell phones in school as long as they are turned off during the school day.

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