U.S., state deal on MSPAP lets 16 counties opt out

City, Balto. County must test 8th-graders

March 22, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Two-thirds of the public school systems in Maryland will be allowed to opt out of the eighth-grade portion of the state's annual testing program, the U.S. Department of Education announced yesterday, while eight systems will be required to give the test.

The deal struck by state and federal education officials preserves $275 million in federal money that Maryland stood to lose next year if it failed to administer performance tests.

"That's good news," said Assistant State Schools Superintendent Ronald Peiffer. "It allows us to move forward."

Baltimore City must give the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test to eighth-graders starting April 29, along with Baltimore, Howard, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, St. Mary's and Worcester counties.

The school boards of the state's 16 other school systems will able to cancel the test if they wish. Those systems were exempted because they do not have middle schools that receive federal money for low-income students under the federal Title I program.

Board members in several of those systems -- including Anne Arundel, Carroll and Montgomery -- had indicated they would suspend the eighth-grade MSPAP test. They said they are awaiting final instructions from the state superintendent, Nancy S. Grasmick.

"If word comes from Dr. Grasmick that we don't have to do it, then we can declare MSPAP dead for eighth grade," said Anne Arundel board member Vaughn Brown.

Grasmick was at a conference in New York on testing yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Her spokesman said she had not seen yesterday's letter from the U.S. Education Department, which approved her plan to allow those 16 school systems to opt out.

In the letter, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Susan B. Neuman wrote, "I hope this approval will allow Maryland to more quickly make the transition to a new assessment and accountability system that meets Title I requirements."

Maryland is developing a set of tests that will comply with President Bush's new testing requirements, which call for the individual reporting of scores. The MSPAP scores schools, not students.

In a letter to Neuman on Monday, Grasmick outlined a five-year plan for implementing new tests in Maryland. By 2004, children in grades three, five and eight will receive individual scores from a new test. By 2006, all students in grades three through eight will take the test and get individual scores.

The Baltimore County school board was leaning toward canceling the eighth-grade MSPAP test but now will have to offer it.

"We have no choice," said board President Donald L. Arnold, when asked for his reaction to the new requirement. "I guess what I think of it has no bearing because we have to provide it."

Baltimore school board Vice Chairman C. William Struever said that the city school system has long supported the state's effort to raise standards through MSPAP and looks forward to improvements being made to the test. If receiving Title I dollars means having to administer the exams this spring, he said, then so be it.

"Extra funding brings accountability, and that's something we understand and support," he said. "We love the extra funding, and we don't mind the accountability that goes along with it. It sounds to me that's what the feds are saying."

The Howard County school board voted this month to give the MSPAP to eighth-graders, so yesterday's announcement has no bearing on pupils there.

In Carroll County, school board member C. Scott Stone said the panel indicated it would opt out.

Sun staff writers Stephanie Desmon, Jennifer McMenamin and Erika Niedowski contributed to this article.

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