- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

To Maryland educrats, the circus-like school board situation in Prince George's County may be something of a relief. For one thing, the "crisis" situation makes it more likely that people will forget Maryland's continuing failure to enact substantive educational reforms such as charter schools (Maryland is one of just 14 states not to have done so), which are working successfully elsewhere in the country. It also diverts attention from the abysmal results of the annual Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) and from serious questions about whether those tests are useful at all.
The MSPAP tests are administered to all third-, fifth- and eighth-grade public school students in May. MSPAP defenders like Maryland education boss Nancy L. Grasmick claim that the test would subject students to rigorous achievement standards and set an ambitious goal of getting 70 percent of pupils scoring at a "satisfactory" level by 2000. But last year, just one school district (Howard County, with 61.2 percent) broke the 60 percent mark. Meanwhile, Prince George's County's "satisfactory" percentage fell from 31 percent in 2000 to 28 percent, and Montgomery County's dropped from 55 percent to 51 percent.
But serious questions have been raised as to whether the MSPAP is at all useful in measuring student achievement. Bill Evers, a political scientist at the Hoover Institution, recently chaired an outside panel of academic experts who were brought in to evaluate the MSPAP by Mrs. Grasmick. He is scathingly critical of the test. "It became quickly evident to our panel that students do not need to have learned anything much of substance from their lessons to do well on the MSPAP," according to Mr. Evers, who told The Washington Times that official Maryland policy is to have teachers "teach to the test," meaning that 20 minutes before an exam is administered, students are instructed on the content. "State education officials seem to have little interest in finding out what academic contents students have learned before the test day," he said, adding that sample student answers used to train graders of the exam "place little value on accuracy," including one which features Mahatma Gandhi as a woman, and another claiming that the Pilgrims landed in Maryland.
If the Evers panel has it correct, the real problem with the MSPAP isn't the declining student scores, but the fact that the test itself is flawed. Mrs. Grasmick is blocking release of a 300-page critique of the MSPAP issued by the Evers panel. It's time to end the cover up and release the report even if it does suggest that Mrs. Grasmick's pet "reform" project is seriously flawed.

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