- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Now that Maryland's state schools superintendent, Nancy Grasmick, has decided not to join Rep. Robert Ehrlich's gubernatorial ticket, he should count his blessings. It is certainly understandable that Mr. Ehrlich, running in a state where Republicans are outnumbered by roughly 2-1, would be tempted to court a big-name Democrat like Mrs. Grasmick. But, when it comes to real education reform, something Mr. Ehrlich has often advocated, he would have been hard-pressed to come up with a poorer choice for a running mate.

Take, for example, the fiasco over the annual Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) test, one of Mrs. Grasmick's pet "reform" projects. The test, which was recently discontinued, was administered to all third-, fifth- and eighth-grade public school students in the state.

Serious questions have been raised as to whether MSPAP was at all useful in measuring student achievement. Several years ago, Mrs. Grasmick's educrats and the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation selected a group of scholars to study this very question. This panel, headed by William Evers, a political scientist and educational expert at the Hoover Institution, spent many hours pouring over the exam and student answers in an effort to see how the test was working.

The goal was to see "how well MSPAP was doing what it intends, and to present suggestions, if any, for improvement," said Ralph A. Raimi, a member of the panel and professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Rochester. Over the next few months, Mr. Evers assembled their findings and presented them to Mrs. Grasmick. "Every member of the Evers panel said approximately the same thing. The [MSPAP] system was of no value for its announced purpose. In most subjects, the tasks did not come close to testing for the knowledge of the things asked for in Maryland's own standards," Mr. Raimi wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Times. "Furthermore, the grading was inconsistent, with correct answers not recognized as such by some of the graders, and incorrect answers given full credit. The questions themselves were often incoherent, trivial or based on erroneous understanding of the subject matter by composers of the questions." Mr. Evers told this newspaper that sample student questions used to train graders of the exam "place little value on accuracy," including one which claimed that the Pilgrims landed in Maryland, and another which featured Mahatma Gandhi as a woman.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Grasmick and her colleagues in Maryland's public-educational "blob" (to use a term coined by Bill Bennett) reacted by circling the wagons and seeking to discredit the Evers panel. State testing chief Mark Moody denounced its work as "unprofessional," "inflammatory" and "biased." Mrs. Grasmick termed the report "extremely conservative" and said she believed its purpose was to urge the state's educational system to "go back to facts, facts, facts, memorization and regurgitation." Mrs. Grasmick, citing specious confidentiality concerns, has blocked release of the Evers panel's 300-page report detailing even more problems with MSPAP.

In short, media organs like The Washington Post, which portrayed Mrs. Grasmick's decision this week as a setback for Mr. Ehrlich, have the story completely wrong. Her refusal to join Mr. Ehrlich's ticket is probably one of the best things that could have happened to his campaign. Mr. Ehrlich now needs to go back and rethink what he wants in a running mate.


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