- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2000

Prince George's County students scored slightly lower on this year's Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program tests than last, bucking a statewide trend of improved MSPAP overall scores.

Results released yesterday show that 45.3 percent of the state's students performed at least satisfactorily on the tests; Kent County topped the list, with 62 percent.

Prince George's County was the second-lowest performer, at 31 percent just above Baltimore, which had a passing rate of 20.5 percent. Last year Prince George's had a 31.1 percent passing rate.

Leroy Tompkins, associate superintendent for accountability and assessment in Prince George's County, said he was disappointed with the "flat trend" and that scores did not improve.

"This is very discouraging. It keeps getting worse and worse," said Lynn Beiber, a Prince George's County parent.

Mrs. Beiber cited talk by some parents looking to boycott the test next year. "People are disgusted with it. We hate this test. It really makes us look bad," she said.

Montgomery County, with a passing rate of 55.4 percent, was the state's fourth-highest scorer and was among 19 of 24 counties with improved scores.

Montgomery County schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said several issues remain to be resolved in the county, "but there are clear and powerful indicators that the school system is moving rapidly on a course for even greater success."

The MSPAP is administered each May to all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders to gauge their abilities in six subjects: reading, writing, math, language, social studies and science.

The test is designed to judge schools' effectiveness, not the performance of individual students.

This year, schools statewide saw lower scores in third-grade reading and social studies, and in fifth-grade science. Scores for boys and minorities also continued to lag.

"This is difficult work because one size does not fit all," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who released the results in Baltimore yesterday.

"A decade ago, we established high expectations for schools and students, and not once have we wavered from those expectations," she said.

The state last year drew up a "watch list" of 96 schools that had not met expectations on the MSPAP and were eligible for a state takeover; the list included 12 Prince George's schools.

This year's list has yet to be created, but at least 58 schools on last year's list improved their scores, said Ronald Peiffer, assistant state schools superintendent.

Two schools were taken off the watch list this year, including Thomas E. Stone Elementary in Prince George's County.

Last year, statewide scores dropped to 43.8 percent after having climbed in 1993 the year the tests were first administered.

Despite this year's increase, results overall fell far short of the state-set target of 70 percent of students scoring "satisfactory" by this year.

"There is no expectation that we will reach this number even by next year," Mr. Peiffer said.

"When the standards were set up in 1993, we had a lot of expectations … what we did not know was how difficult it would be to change instruction [to meet expectations]."

Mrs. Grasmick said state schools had made "progress in every area." She added that she would set up in January a statewide panel to "lay out a blueprint for the work ahead."

The panel would comprise national experts and "major stakeholders from Maryland" who will put forward new requirements for schools to meet standards, Mr. Peiffer said.

It "will look at the whole reform effort over the past 10 years, study the problems, and determine what we should do over the next 10 years," he added.

Additionally, the state Department of Education plans to send its staff to low-scoring counties to examine their curriculums. Training programs for teachers also would be instituted, Mr. Peiffer said.

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