Board picks new exam

Eighth-graders will take basic skills test instead of MSPAP

State test criticized

Mid-May assessment will provide scores of individual pupils

Anne Arundel

April 04, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Eighth-graders in Anne Arundel County will not take the state's contested performance test this year, the school board unanimously decided yesterday, opting instead to give those pupils a multiple-choice test.

Anne Arundel is the first school system in the Baltimore area to drop the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test. Board members said they were tired of a test that scored schools but not individual pupils.

"For quite some time, I've heard criticism ... from parents who said the test didn't tell them anything about their child," said board member Michael McNelly. "Public education is not about schools as a whole. It's about how well we're educating children on an individual basis."

Four other counties -- Cecil, Frederick, Montgomery and Washington -- have decided they will not offer the MSPAP test to eighth-graders in the first week of May.

Some of those counties and Anne Arundel will instead give the California Test of Basic Skills, which provides parents and teachers with detailed results on the performance of individual children.

"The chief and most important benefit of the CTBS is it will provide individual student test results," said Anne Arundel interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson, who recommended switching to the skills test. He said all 19 county middle school principals and the teachers association urged the change.

"Parents will have a measure of how their children are performing," he said. "And high school guidance counselors and teachers can help make decisions about academic programs and placement."

But the change has a price. While the state pays for administering the MSPAP -- it has already shipped test booklets to all counties -- Anne Arundel will have to pay $80,000 for the California skills test.

"I don't like paying $80,000 for it when the MSPAP wasn't going to cost us anything," school board member Vaughn Brown said in a recent interview. "I want to stick with the MSPAP, but I don't feel we can. With the overall public climate on it, it's a nonstarter. It's on the way out."

The MSPAP has been criticized since January, when the much-delayed release of scores showed unusual drops in high-performing counties such as Montgomery.

Anne Arundel will have eighth-graders take six hours of tests during four days in mid-May. The essay-based MSPAP runs for nine hours during five days. Third- and fifth-graders in the state will continue to take the MSPAP.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is allowing 16 of the state's 24 school systems to opt out of the eighth-grade MSPAP test. The other eight systems -- including Baltimore and Howard counties and Baltimore City -- must give the MSPAP because they have middle schools that receive federal anti-poverty money.

Maryland would have lost $275 million in federal funding next year if it dropped the test completely.

In other action yesterday, the board learned that it will have to take the unusual step of asking the county for more money this fiscal year. The school system is anticipating a budget deficit of $4.4 million. The system has made cuts but has been unable to cover the shortfall.

The board also unanimously approved a new grading policy that standardizes a scattershot approach at the county's 117 schools.

The policy calls for high school students to take two-hour semester and final exams, which will count for 20 percent of their overall course grade. And for the first time, all eighth-graders will take exams in academic subjects.

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