ANNAPOLIS – Educators criticized the Maryland School Performance Assessment tests Thursday before a House of Delegates panel, saying they lower morale and creativity in students and frustrate teachers.
The school officials told the House Ways and Means Committee that they need House Bill 1131, which would form a commission to examine the effectiveness of the MSPAP tests and make suggestions for change.
The commission would give teachers a forum, said the main sponsor, Delegate Thomas E. Dewberry, D-Baltimore County, and would not necessarily mean elimination of the tests.
“That’s all this bill does – it gives them the opportunity to be heard,” said Dewberry, who also supports the tests.
The MSPAP test is given annually statewide to third-, fifth-, and eighth-graders to evaluate reading, math, writing, language usage, science, and social studies skills.
But it inhibits students in other areas, including creativity and morale, critics at the hearing said. And teachers are overburdened with both lengthy hours of test preparation and regular instruction, a combination that is leading more teachers to resign, they said.
“Teachers are burning out,” said Beatrice Doose, a third-grade teacher at Halstead Academy in Baltimore County.
Students burn out, too, said Lillian Gibbons, a Baltimore County seventh- grader. Teachers spend so much time drilling them on the tests, that by the time they’re examined they don’t do their best, she said. Plus, students don’t get individual feedback on the results.
Under the bill, a panel of 15, including legislators and teachers, would develop and give a survey to elementary and middle schools.
“We need this kind of step-back opportunity to look at the issues,” including the appropriateness of the test’s length, and whether third-graders are old enough to take them, said Patricia Foerster, Maryland State Teachers Association president.
But teachers do have a say, said Gary Heath of the Maryland State Department of Education, because they write the exams. About 150 to 200 teachers helped write the tests for 2002, he said.
Supporters of the tests also said the test accurately evaluates student performance, and gives teachers direction.
Five years ago, said Fort Foote Elementary School Principal Robyn Zgorski, her students’ test scores were in the teens. Now, she said, the scores are in the 60s and 70s. The focus that the MSPAP tests provided the teachers, she said, caused such a great increase.