Getting pumped-up for MSPAP Tests: With funding and prestige on the line, Maryland public schools are preparing students and parents for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests this month.


THE SELLING of the Tests.

That might be the title of the public relations blitz going on in Maryland schools as the crucial Week of the MSPAP draws nigh this month.

Meanwhile, state school officials are gearing up for testing that will determine high school graduation in 2004.

All across the state, public school marquees and PTA newsletters are advertising "MSPAP nights," carnivals, fairs and other events designed to get students and parents in the mood for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests this month.

Roye-Williams Elementary in Havre de Grace, for example, is accommodating parents' schedules by planning identical MSPAP sessions this evening and tomorrow morning. Parents and students will take an abbreviated MSPAP practice test in a classroom setting, and parents will be urged to keep the kids healthy and well-rested during MSPAP week.

Such efforts get more intense as the performance tests, in their fifth year, become fixtures from Oakland to Crisfield. Principals understand that the absence of two or three kids in a third-, fifth- or eighth-grade class can affect MSPAP scores significantly, and the cash rewards the state began handing out last year to schools demonstrating steady improvement have increased the stakes.

When parents appreciate what the tests are about, they'll do a better job of preparing their kids, or so the thinking goes.

At the state level, Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is selling tests that won't count until 2004, the first year that passing exams in English, mathematics, science and social studies becomes a requirement for high school graduation.

Last week, Grasmick sent letters to the parents of every fifth-grader in the state (through their principals) briefly describing the high school exit tests and urging them to encourage their children, the Class of '04, "to do better in school now." Stay informed, and "share your ideas about the new tests," Grasmick wrote.

Grasmick is smart. She knows that MSPAP has had a relatively smooth political ride in part because it is a measure of school, not individual, performance. But the high school tests will determine whether students can graduate. Already some in the usually cooperative public school establishment -- PTAs, teacher groups and a couple of local superintendents -- are opposing the high school testing program or urging delays in its implementation.

Grasmick and the state Board of Education will need good will, which is why you'll be seeing letters of support for the new tests in Maryland newspapers, along with other signs of a public relations campaign.

Schmoke won't really lose school authority to the state

An overlooked consequence of the city-state education "partnership" approved Monday by the General Assembly is that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will be sacrificing much of his authority over the operation of Baltimore schools.

But he's not losing authority to the state, which is what opponents of the legislation charged in calling the partnership plan a "takeover." Rather, he'll be losing power to a new school board with more independence from City Hall than the current body ever enjoyed, and to a new chief operating officer with more autonomy than any superintendent since 1898.

In a "strong-mayor" form of government that holds the mayor responsible for the schools' budget, Schmoke has made numerous major education decisions, and a little-noticed City Charter amendment effective in July gave him the authority to hire and fire superintendents.

He didn't really need it. Schmoke ushered the late Alice Pinderhughes into retirement, hired Richard C. Hunter in 1988, ordered him out three years later and participated in the hiring of Walter G. Amprey in 1991. Amprey said he never minded the mayor's direction. Hunter resented it. "From my vantage point, the mayor was the superintendent of schools," Hunter said in a recent interview, "but it was to his advantage never to acknowledge that."

Why would Schmoke give up that authority, especially for a paltry $254 million?

"I'll still be heavily involved and interested," he said recently, "but I saw in the partnership the very best hope for improving education in Baltimore City."

'Oratorio of Celebration' will be read tonight

"It is Wednesday, April 3, 1996, midway in the Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Easter, and the day before the first Seder of Passover. An actor comes into a classroom to help two professors teach a lesson in the history of slavery. Soon, however, a survivor -- the actor transubstantiated -- incarnates for the class lessons in the horror of human suffering and the miracle of human survival. In the end, students and professors celebrate together the mystery of human faith."

This is the synopsis of "The Survivor: An Oratorio of Celebration," by Sidney Krome, which will be given a reading at 7: 30 this evening at Baltimore's Arena Playhouse.

Krome, an English professor at Coppin State College, wrote the oratorio during the past year after doing extensive research on slavery and interviewing Holocaust survivors.

The $5 admission benefits the playhouse.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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