Teachers union asks state to halt MSPAP this year

Balto. County group says resources should go toward new tests

February 23, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon and Stephen Kiehl | Stephanie Desmon and Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Joining a growing chorus of voices concerned about the reliability of Maryland's signature exams, the Baltimore County teachers union has asked the state to call off this year's elementary and middle school testing program.

Instead of spending time and money administering and grading the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, union President Mark Beytin said, state officials could better spend their resources developing the next generation of tests. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has said significant changes to MSPAP are coming, including a shift to more individual accountability for pupils.

Despite those changes, which will mirror new federal law, the tests scheduled to be given in two months will be in the same format as in previous years.

"We would be concerned about them giving the test this year," Beytin said. "It's not because we want to throw out testing. We want a testing program that's aligned throughout the school years. This one isn't even aligned with itself." The union's executive board voted on the issue this week.

Though the MSPAP has been in place for nearly a decade, the latest batch of scores have garnered the loudest criticism, with Montgomery County the first to break ranks. Scores there dropped significantly - 20 of the state's 24 school systems saw their scores fall - and county officials have been trying to determine what went wrong.

State officials have looked into the scores. The 2001 scores were released two months late as the state investigated surprising fluctuations in the scores of individual schools. But outside researchers gave the test - and the scores - a clean bill of health. State officials have stood by the test and the decision to give it as scheduled this year.

Other school boards have taken up the issue of whether to join Montgomery County's protest. Carroll County's board recently voted to support suspension of the test.

This week, Anne Arundel County school board members sided with the state, saying officials are responding to concerns about the test.

"The long-term objectives being called for in [Montgomery County's] resolution are already the long-term objectives of the Maryland Department of Education," said Anne Arundel County school board member Vaughn Brown. "For us to say, `Stop MSPAP immediately,' it seems to me it would create such confusion and lack of direction that it would result in backsliding in the tremendous gains that have been made."

The only Anne Arundel County board member in favor of suspending the MSPAP this year was Michael J. McNelly, who said: "I appreciate the efforts of Montgomery County. It took a lot of courage to come forward publicly and say there are some major, major problems with the MSPAP."

The Baltimore County school board is scheduled to take up the topic Tuesday, though members are not expected to take a stand immediately. The county's Council of PTAs has already called for an end to the test.

Given each spring to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders, the assessments are different from typical standardized tests with multiple-choice questions. The tests ask pupils to apply knowledge by working in groups and writing long answers.

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