ANNAPOLIS – Education critics will no longer be able to attack the state’s often-disparaged school assessment program, the MSPAP.
The Maryland State Department of Education introduced a new test Wednesday, touting its ability to report specific test results for individual students.
The test, called the Maryland School Assessment, will replace the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which has been used statewide for the past decade, but did not meet new federal standards.
Critics of the MSPAP have complained of its inability to provide individual student scores.
The MSA, along with a new reading campaign, will cost $53 million over four years to implement, with about half being paid for by the federal government.
A new test was created to meet the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the recommendations of Maryland’s Visionary Panel for Better Schools, a group of more than 300 Maryland teachers, parents and education advocates.
“I feel very strongly that Maryland was in the forefront of building an accountability and assessment system with MSPAP,” said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. However, she said, “we realized that after a decade it’s time to look at lessons learned, time to make some changes.”
Scoring is the main difference between the MSA and the MSPAP. The MSPAP only reported schoolwide scores. With the MSA, two new sets of scores will be available: how the student compares to other state students and how they compare nationally.
Now, teachers and schools will be held more accountable for students’ education. School officials can use the scores to evaluate each student’s education and the teachers’ instruction.
“Learning is a cumulative act. It doesn’t just measure grade three,” Grasmick said. “It also measures everything that came before it. It’s a team effort. (With the MSA) we will be able to see certain patterns.”
The MSA also is more cost-effective, Education Department officials said. Math tests will cost $16 per student and reading $14. The MSPAP cost $35 per student with no federal funding. “We’re talking about a bargain to validate the quality of instruction the students are receiving,” Grasmick said.
The MSA’s six-hour testing over four days is much shorter than the MSPAP’s schedule, which tested students for nine hours over five days.
Starting in March, third-, fifth- and eighth-graders will take the reading and math portion of the MSA. Tenth-graders will take the reading portion at the same time. The tests will consist of multiple choice and essay questions.
“I think it’s (the MSA) another step in the evolution of education reform that Maryland’s been engaged in since the `80s,” said Gary Heath, arts and sciences branch chief for the Division of Instruction.
First-year test results are expected to be available in August, however, results should be available by the end of June in future years.
California-based vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill is developing the math portions for third-through-eighth grades and reading for 10th grade. Texas-based vendor Harcourt Educational Measurement is working on the reading portion for third- through-eighth grades. Both vendors will handle scoring of the test.
Along with the new test, the state Education Department is starting a new federally funded program called Reading First, aimed at encouraging students in kindergarten-through-third grade to read.
Discussion of replacing the highly criticized MSPAP began in 2000 with the creation of Visionary Panel for Better Schools. The panel formed to discuss the state’s educational needs and make recommendations for improvement.
The state was forced in 2002 to replace the MSPAP after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act. According to the act, students must be tested in reading and math in third, fifth and eighth grades as well as once in high school.
“It is time to make some changes,” Grasmick said. “We are beginning a new decade of accountability.”