Schools chart path to student success

March 05, 2003|By Nancy S. Grasmick

STUDENTS THROUGHOUT the state will take a new test this week - the Maryland School Assessment.

Testing is a critical element of school reform. For our students to be successful in today's world, they need to know and be able to do more than ever before. We need to be able to measure how well a student is learning so we can be sure that he or she has every opportunity to succeed.

If we cannot determine failure, we cannot correct it, and if we cannot recognize achievement, we cannot applaud it.

The Maryland School Assessment will fulfill recommendations made by a state panel of parents, legislators, educators and business and community leaders. It will also meet the new federal testing requirements of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

Our schools have been involved in rigorous assessment for more than a decade. We have long collected data, identified low-performing schools and rewarded successful ones. For the third straight year, the nation's leading education newspaper gave Maryland an "A" for its K-12 standards and system of assessing, reporting and holding schools responsible for improving achievement.

"Achievement Matters Most," the state Department of Education's new plan for school reform, accelerates the pace of change.

Whereas our previous assessment program, MSPAP, focused on school performance, our new test will sharpen our focus on individual students. More than 100 people who are interested in K-12 education helped us shape the new test. The process has been thoughtful and thorough. Our goal was to create a high-quality test that is aligned with Maryland standards and that produces accurate, useful and timely information on individual students.

The new test will be administered this year to students in reading and math at grades 3, 5 and 8 and in reading only at grade 10. Next year, students in grades 4, 6 and 7 will also be tested, with science following in 2005.

The new test will be shorter than MSPAP, taking about 90 minutes a day for four days. Students will work independently, not in groups, and will answer both multiple choice and short essay questions. Sample questions and other test information are available on our Web site at marylandpublicschools.org.

Scores will be reported at the school, school system and state levels. Individual student scores will be sent home to parents shortly afterward and will indicate how well their child has learned the reading and math that Maryland has determined all students should know and how he or she did compared with other students nationally.

All Maryland public schools will have to make adequate yearly progress among all groups of students (students of all races as well as those who are poor, those learning English and those receiving special education service). Schools that make significant progress among all groups will be eligible for rewards.

Schools that do not meet their yearly progress goals may be identified as needing improvement, and the local school system or state may become directly involved in school improvement efforts. Low-performing schools may have to offer parents the opportunity to send their children to another school or provide students free supplemental services such as tutoring.

"Achievement Matters Most" provides us with a framework for student achievement that is both ambitious and comprehensive. Our new Maryland School Assessment puts us on a fast track to deliver. There's much to be done if we are to ensure that every child succeeds in the classroom, but Maryland students deserve nothing less.

Nancy S. Grasmick is the state superintendent of schools.

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