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NewsMarylandSun Investigates

School systems use test scores to place kids

Scores on the Maryland School Assessment aren’t just a barometer of whether schools are doing their jobs, they also may affect the kinds of classes students take and whether they can get into a magnet high school.

Officials blamed the test score declines on a change in curriculum, saying results were skewed this year because students weren’t necessarily taught the material they were tested on. For example, students are no longer being taught pie charts but could still encounter questions about them on the old MSA.

“The misalignment of tests and curriculum could have a huge impact on students. If we are not testing students on the curriculum being taught throughout the year, it is difficult to accurately assess what they comprehend and the areas in which they might need additional support,” Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance said in an email.

The scores are part of the criteria used to decide whether a student would go to a magnet school like Baltimore City’s Polytechnic Institute, which has entrance requirements.

In Baltimore County, scores are used in conjunction with other data to decide whether a student should be placed in a gifted and talented classroom.

New tests that align with the new curriculum won’t be ready until the 2014-2015 school year. In the meantime, Maryland plans to continue using the old tests for another year, so the disconnect between what is taught and what is tested will continue as well.

So some students may continue to be at a disadvantage.

City school officials said they will study the issue.

But for students applying for placement in a magnet high school for the next school year, “inclusion of MSA results remains appropriate,” city officials said in a statement.

MSA scores are part of an overall composite score used to determine whether a student is eligible to gain a spot in one of seven city high schools. The composite score also takes into account grades and attendance.

Officials point out the MSA scores may not pose a problem. Even if a student’s score declined, the percentile score when compared to other students may have remained constant. And that percentile can still be used to determine placement.

But Dance said the test scores could still have impact. “In terms of determining placement in specialty programs, assessment scores are only one part of the data used, but they are considered and therefore have some effect,” he said.

In St. Mary’s County, Superintendent Michael Martirano, who represents school superintendents in Maryland, said the MSAs would continue to be used as one in “a myriad of local assessments that I use with my students to make instructional and placement decisions into signature programs.”

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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