By andrei Blakely
BALTIMORE – A record 45.3 percent of state students scored satisfactory or better on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests given in May, state education officials said Thursday, up 1.5 percent from last year.
This year, 19 of 24 jurisdictions improved their scores. And 12 jurisdictions – four more than last year – saw 50 percent of pupils receive grades of satisfactory or higher.
The record surpasses the score of 44.1 percent set in 1998.
“Most people understand that it is not the result, but it is the overall trend,” said Ron Peiffer, assistant superintendent of school and community outreach.
This year’s results will quell much of the concern caused last year when scores dropped .3 percentage points from 1998.
The tests are designed to enhance educators’ understanding of what programs are working and where money needs to be applied in the school system. The state also has proposed adding money to budget intervention programs that provide staff and resources toward improving pupil’s abilities.
One program the tests directly influence is the reconstitution-eligible program, which determines schools that could be taken over by the state.
Thomas Stone Elementary School in Mt. Rainier and Baltimore’s Pimlico Elementary School will be removed from the statewide list of schools eligible to be taken over because of exceptional gains on the test this year.
State officials praised the hard work that went into creating the improvements.
“Yes MSPAP is up this year for the sixth time in seven years,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools. “Statisticians have told us to expect plateaus. We did not waver. We kept working and that is why we see these results this year.”
The MSPAP tests are given to third-, fifth- and eighth- graders and test the subjects of reading, writing, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
The tests measure pupil’s performance as excellent, satisfactory or not met. The main percentage score reflects the number of students in a jurisdiction, who scored at a satisfactory level. The 45.3 percent score reflects the percentage of students who performed at a satisfactory level.
The tests are expected to change within a 3-percentage point plateau each year. If there were any huge statewide changes, officials would be concerned, said Mark Moody, assistant superintendent.
“We think (the test results are) moving in the right direction. We’re pleased that it is moving up again,” said Karl Pence, special adviser to Gov. Parris N. Glendening on education issues.
The results show more schools are meeting or approaching satisfactory levels this year. There were also more systems with high performance.
Kent County led the state with 62 percent of its pupils scoring satisfactorily. The Kent County result stemmed from the success of the county’s third-grade class, which led the state by 20 points over second-place finisher Howard County. Howard County’s fifth- and eighth-graders led the state.
The third-grade performance results from Kent County are significant because the eight-school jurisdiction does not have an all-day kindergarten program, slated by officials as a possible solution to enhancing early learning.
“I’m so proud of our students and the dedicated instructional staff at Kent County Public Schools,” said Lorraine A. Costella, county superintendent, in a press release.
Statewide, eighth-graders still faired low on the reading test as only 26.8 had satisfactory results. But statewide, fifth- and eighth-graders scored six to 10 points better on math and science than third-graders.
Eighth-graders have shown a slight improvement on mathematics scores. The mathematics scores third- and fifth- graders has leveled off. State scores on science also remained constant.
“This is the greatest test of whether our breakthrough strategies are working. If they can work in a challenged area they can work anywhere,” said Grasmick.
Educators are focused on bridging the achievement gap between wealthy and impoverished students, and Pimlico and Thomas Stone’s successes seem to indicate their strategies may be working. Both schools have very high numbers of students on the free and reduced lunch programs.
Thomas Stone’s composite score rose by more than 31 percentage points, while Pimlico’s scores improved by 26 points, officials reported.
“We knew we were going to increase,” said Sheila Murray, principal of Thomas Stone. “Could we have predicted this increase? No.”
But state officials are satisfied with results from the test that enables them to detect problem areas and work to make improvements.
“The test gives us our target and then we can develop a program that is specifically geared and for our children,” said Susan Hershfeld, principal of Harford Hills Elementary School in Baltimore County.
It’s worked at Harford Hills. Nearly 70 percent of its pupils received satisfactory composite scores. And the school’s scores have consistently risen since 1996.
The record scores will quiet critics of the MSPAP program, said Neil Greenberger, state spokesman, since more attention was paid to critics last year when results dropped.
Information about the MSPAP test results are available on-line at http://www.msde.state.md.us.