WASHINGTON – Many of the state’s eighth graders will have to take the controversial MSPAP test this year, a U.S. Department of Education official said after meeting with Maryland superintendent Nancy Grasmick.
Susan Neuman said that while no formal decision was made during the Thursday meeting, “we reached an understanding that for Maryland to be in compliance with federal law, they’re going to need to do this.”
But Maryland education officials insisted Friday that “there was no outcome” from the meeting with Neuman, the assistant U.S. secretary of elementary and secondary education.
“I don’t know what that’s about; we didn’t come to any agreement,” said Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland Education Department. “We had a productive meeting, where we agreed to exchange more information and come to a resolution early next week.”
Grasmick had announced plans in early March to let school districts opt out of the controversial Maryland School Performance Assessment Program for eighth graders. Her announcement followed heavy criticism of the test from parents and educators, after scores dropped sharply and unexpectedly throughout the state.
But on March 11, Grasmick sent a letter to local officials asking that they delay that decision until she met with federal officials to discuss whether it would breach requirements for federal programs like Title I poverty grants. That meeting took place Thursday in Washington.
Neuman said Friday that letting school districts opt out of the eighth- grade MSPAP would indeed violate federal Title I rules and jeopardize that funding for needy middle schools.
To ensure continued funding, she said, eighth graders in all school districts where any middle school receives Title I funds will have to take the MSPAP — regardless of whether those students attend a Title I school themselves.
Federal officials said that, based on data they had received from the state, eight Maryland school districts will have to administer the eighth-grade test and 16 will not.
“I think it’s a bad decision by the federal governmeent, because the MSPAP is not a good assessment tool,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville. He fired off a letter Friday to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, urging him to let Maryland make the eighth-grade MSPAP optional this year.
Federal officials on Friday could not name the counties in Maryland that will have to continue the test. Montgomery County officials, however, said they do not receive middle school Title I funds and will therefore not have to administer the test. The county board had voted Tuesday to drop the test pending federal approval.
Neuman praised the state’s education officials for their “forward thinking” about new assessment requirements in the “Leave No Child Behind” federal education reforms signed into law this year. But for now, she said, the eighth-grade MSPAP remains mandatory for districts receiving middle-school Title I money.
The department will make its ruling official, Neuman said, once it receives a formal proposal from Maryland officials about how they plan to proceed with testing this year.