BALTIMORE – State educators downplayed a slight drop in state average performance on school assessment tests and applauded schools that boosted their scores after releasing 1999 figures Wednesday.
The percentage of students performing at satisfactory levels on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests hit 43.8 this year, falling just shy of last year’s peak average of 44.1.
“Some of it is to be expected. You aren’t just going to have a smooth and steady incline. What we’re interested in is continuous progress,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools.
MSPAP tests are given to students in grades three, five and eight to gauge their knowledge in reading, writing, math, science, language usage and social studies.
Administrators should focus on the success of individual schools, and the overall improvement since the first test in 1993, when the percentage of students with satisfactory scores was 31.7, Grasmick said.
Grasmick highlighted Mount Royal Elementary School in Baltimore, which had the state’s highest fifth-grade math score, and Barton Elementary School in Allegany County, where satisfactory performance has risen almost 40 points since 1995.
Schools failing to improve, she warned, may experience program and personnel changes.
“A lot of systems and individual schools had the attitude, ‘This will go away. We don’t have to take this seriously.’ A lot of schools are working harder but they’re not working smarter,” Grasmick said. “The schools that are recalcitrant about this are going to have to see some major changes.”
Kent County, which was ranked fifth among school districts last year, had the top average performance in the state this year with 60 percent of its students achieving satisfactory scores. It was followed by Howard, Harford and Carroll school districts.
“I credit the teachers,” said Lorraine A. Costella, superintendent of Kent County schools, in a press release. “They are responsible for this impressive accomplishment. This was not an easy task.”
Baltimore continued to have the lowest score but managed to show improvement for the third consecutive year, with a district average of 17 percent scoring at or above satisfactory.
Grasmick said state educators are likely to push back their original goal of having the number of satisfactory test scores in all schools reach 70 percent by next year, but she insisted they will not lower the standard.
Seventy-seven schools reached the state goal of 70 percent, including 21 schools that reached the level for the first time.
“Accountability does produce results, even if it is painful at times,” Grasmick said.
Reading scores continued to be a problem, especially among eighth-grade students, and students still showed a “minority gap,” with white and Asian students reaching higher averages than African-American, Hispanic and American Indian students in every subject.
The Maryland Department of Education has taken steps to address the problems, Grasmick said, including developing new standards for training reading teachers and developing a panel to find ways to enhance minority achievement.
The department also will ask the General Assembly for $49 million to fund tutoring and summer school programs to prevent students from moving to the next grade level unprepared, she said.
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