- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002


President Bush's sweeping educational reforms could require expensive revisions of Maryland's school testing program.

The landmark No Child Left Behind Act, now awaiting Mr. Bush's signature, would require Maryland to establish a standardized test of seventh-graders within four years. The state now uses the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills to evaluate every grade from three to eight except seventh.

The MSPAP is the kind of test the act will require, but the way it reports scores will have to be revamped, said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based nonpartisan advocate for public schools.

The new bill requires states to report scores of individual pupils, not grouped by schools as the MSPAP does now. Changing the reporting is not as simple as sending test forms from the schools to the parents, Mr. Jennings said.

"To adjust MSPAP will be very difficult, very costly," he said. "That's because the test is really given on a sampling basis. Not every child performs the same tasks in the same grade."

State schools superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said establishing a test for seventh-graders will cost at least $3 million.

Maryland could be eligible for federal money to help it develop the new test and to revise MSPAP. Congress has authorized $2 billion in aid for the states over six years, starting with $400 million next year.

The reform Maryland schools already have undergone would help qualify them for the federal aid, said federal and state officials and those familiar with the 1,200-page act.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok said last week that the federal government would work with Maryland to revise MSPAP.

Another problem for Maryland educators could be finding enough "qualified" teachers for every classroom by 2005 as the bill requires.

The state suffers an acute teacher shortage because in-state schools of education train nowhere near enough teachers, and nearly half of the state's teachers are nearing retirement age.

Miss Grasmick said Maryland complies with other requirements in the bill, the most sweeping federal education legislation since 1965.

Almost all of the $4 billion in additional federal aid will go to schools with the highest poverty levels under Title I of the act. Maryland already targets its youngest students in the poorest schools.

Baltimore schools' Title I funding will increase by $10 million next year to $52.2 million; the state's will rise from $124 million to $155.5 million.

The act includes an unprecedented focus on reading, specialists said. The bill allots $260 million to continue family literacy programs and $250 million to repair school libraries.

Most of the legislated changes which overall give the federal government a greater role in state and local school affairs go into effect in 2005. But starting next fall, children in chronically lagging schools will be allowed to transfer to better public schools with transportation provided.

The bill also authorizes money for after-school tutoring. Maryland officials have not yet identified which state schools would be affected by those measures.

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