Students brace for new testing

Nearly half of systems delayed Md. exam start because of snow days

March 04, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The state's newest test intended to measure individual student and schoolwide achievement got off to a relatively smooth start yesterday, despite a last-minute scramble for test materials in some districts.

Although nearly half of the school systems postponed the start of the four-day Maryland School Assessment testing until today - and a few Baltimore schools put off testing when they didn't get the materials in time- other school systems rebounded from the past few weeks' snow closures and gave the test on schedule.

The exam, being given this year to 262,000 students in third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades, is the successor to the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP.

The previous statewide test, dropped last year, tested six subjects and was criticized for using subjective scoring methods, not producing individual student scores and testing students' thinking skills rather than knowledge of the curriculum.

The new test is more streamlined and asks students to complete multiple-choice and short-response questions in reading and math. Tenth-graders are taking only the reading portion of the MSA.

"It's a much more traditional test," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "There should be no surprises at all. It is totally aligned with our content standards."

Results of the MSA will be reported to schools in late July and to parents about a week later, state officials said. In the future, results will be reported before the end of the school year.

A few glitches marred yesterday's otherwise smooth start.

In the days leading up to the test, some school systems discovered that they had not received enough testing booklets for all their students.

Anne Arundel County school officials said middle schools were short about 20 percent of the reading test materials, although they got their hands on enough booklets for everyone by last Friday.

A handful of third-graders in Anne Arundel also were given reading test booklets with missing pages, which teachers had to substitute during the exam, said Adam Milam, the county's testing coordinator.

In Baltimore, officials said a couple of schools could not give the test yesterday because they had not received their materials, which apparently were delivered to wrong addresses.

Howard and Queen Anne's counties said they were short a small number few testing booklets, but were able to order extras in time.

Grasmick said yesterday afternoon that the complaints she had received so far were "minimal," but said she would look into all of them.

Harcourt Educational Measurement produced the reading test materials that some school systems said they did not receive. CTB/McGraw-Hill provided the math portion.

Other school systems reported no problems with materials but said they had to scramble to contend with the hand nature dealt them. After losing a number of instructional days to snowstorms, teachers played catch-up.

"Certainly, missing the week two weeks ago really put them behind," said Gregory Bricca, testing supervisor for Carroll County schools. But he said that preparations were complete, even though school was closed Friday because of more snow.

Across the state, teachers worked on days when schools were closed because of weather, preparing for the exam. Harford County school officials said they opted to go ahead with the test yesterday because they did not want to risk leaving the testing unfinished this week.

Baltimore County, one of the systems that postponed the test, took the extra day to make preparations put off by the bad weather. "All disruptions to the schedule are a problem," said Douglas J. Neilson, a spokesman for the schools.

The test, which takes about 90 minutes a day over four days, covers math and reading and consists of two portions. One is aligned with Maryland's curriculum. The other is a version of the national standardized Stanford Achievement Test/10, intended to show parents how students fare compared with their peers across the country.

A team of parents, educators and data analysts will set three standards this summer for the state curriculum portion of the test: basic, proficient and advanced. Under federal legislation, all students must meet standards for proficient by the 2013-2014 school year.

Next year, the MSA will be extended to fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders.

For teachers, the new test is simpler to administer than its precursor, which required teamwork and hands-on exercises. Teachers also approve of the new tests because they will produce individual student scores, rather than just an overall report card on each school.

"It also puts in proper perspective the responsibility students have for their learning," said Patricia A. Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association.

Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Liz F. Kay, Linda Linley, Ted Shelsby and Tanika White contributed to this article.

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