After MSPAP, a crucial test for Maryland

August 28, 2002|By Eric J. Smith

AS EDUCATORS throughout Maryland anticipate the imminent announcement of the new state assessment program, I wonder how much the rest of the community is watching.

I've met with hundreds of people since my arrival in Maryland several months ago, many of them members of the business community. I sensed that they recognize that the announcement of the successor to the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) is the most important news the Maryland business community will hear for a very long time. In fact, it represents the economic cornerstone of the state's future.

As educators, we are in the business of preparing young people for leadership -- leadership that will become the coin of exchange in tomorrow's marketplace.

Education today faces a national crisis, created in part by the public's lack of faith in the ability of educators to meet the myriad challenges that are regularly the subject of articles, news reports, documentaries and editorial opinions.

As educators, we have an obligation to accept those challenges and prove that public education not only can succeed, but will succeed.

And we must have solid, verifiable proof of our success. The students in Maryland, their parents and the taxpayers have a right to expect that, nothing less.

Of course, there is risk. We see school systems nationwide struggling with issues of change. There is a current of distrust that runs through discussions about public education. But experience confirms my belief that school systems have incredible power -- the power of educators to change lives. What could be more powerful?

Parents and members of the larger community should absolutely expect schools to deliver. Why? Because the students and the teachers are up to the challenge.

Given clear and meaningful direction, schools will raise performance at every level. If teachers and staff know what is expected of them, they will meet those expectations. The students will, too. That is our job, and we take it seriously.

To those who believe we are taking the fun out of education, I would counter that we are not in the business of fun. We are engaged in helping to create children's futures, and it's serious work every day. There is ample fun associated with learning, and those things occur in schools every day: reading, arts, music, sports -- just to name a few.

In the end, we must all agree that the centerpiece of the entire dialogue about assessment has to do with the concept of clear direction. Disorder, obscurity, uncertainty and ambiguity will not do. Because in the presence of ambiguity, those who serve the most challenged performers will be most likely to fail. We cannot allow that to happen.

I am confident that state education officials will commit to raising standards. I am confident that they will not only raise the floor, but that they will raise the ceiling in terms of expectations for students throughout Maryland. And I am confident that the new assessments will give educators a clear, specific and detailed picture of what knowledge and skills are necessary for academic achievement and will provide indicators of the degree of success for each student at a given time.

The success of students across the state depends on it.

I hope that all Marylanders will watch for this important announcement and understand its significant impact on the lives of our young people. I hope that members of the business community will be watching as well with an understanding that this new assessment program should take center stage in discussions about the economic health of the state.

Eric J. Smith is superintendent of the Anne Arundel County public schools.

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