20 denounce MSPAP as statewide test gets under way in schools 'We're seeing eight years of failure,' protester says


In what has become a rite of spring, about 20 people -- including at least five children -- protested the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests yesterday.

Carrying placards and chanting, "Stop MSPAP, Teach Basics," they demonstrated for nearly two hours outside the Maryland State Board of Education in Baltimore. The group was only a fraction of the 100-plus that organizers said last week they were expecting.

The protesters voiced unhappiness over a week of MSPAP testing that began yesterday for fifth-graders in all public schools, and will continue next week for third- and eighth-graders. About 180,000 students will take the tests.

Primary among the critics' concerns are: security that prevents parents from seeing the test or observing their children during testing; the amount of time spent preparing students; and the pressure associated with the tests.

The opponents are also concerned that scores, which measure the performances of grades and schools rather than individuals, remain low, indicating that many children statewide are not doing satisfactory work. They are particularly concerned with reading scores, which last year showed 36.8 percent of third-graders, 35.6 percent of fifth-graders and 26.3 percent of eighth-graders reading satisfactorily.

"We haven't stopped the test yet. We just want to call attention to it," said Doug Stiegler of the Family Protection Lobby. "Parents are trusting of government and we're seeing eight years of failure."

A performance-based test, MSPAP has been administered in Maryland schools since 1991. It differs from traditional standardized tests in that it contains no multiple-choice questions and often requires students to work together on experiments and data analysis before writing individual answers. Students are tested in reading, math, science, social studies and writing.

"A child cannot do these problems without a mastery of basics," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state Superintendent of Schools. But, "They have to be able to go to the next level and that next level is the ability to apply that knowledge and solve problems."

Grasmick did not go to the site of the protest, but a spokesman for her department said he had invited protesters inside to talk about their concerns. They declined.

"We went up and talked to them [in previous years] and we got nowhere," said Stiegler.

Among the marchers were two fifth-graders, whose parents had decided to boycott the test.

"This is my mom's decision because she's against the MSPAP," said Colleen Capozzi of Queen Anne's County. "My opinion is [the test] is stupid." Colleen will stay home mornings this week, but be back in her classroom once testing is over for the day, said her mother, Marirose Capozzi.

"It can't tell me if she's on grade level. It can't tell me a thing about my child. I don't agree with it," said Mrs. Capozzi.

Pam Butler, who brought her daughter, Michelle, objects to the pressure MSPAP puts on students, teachers and principals and to the effect on instruction. "Kids are getting small amounts of information on a broad range of topics," said the Stevensville mother of three.

The state publishes brochures, posters and parent manuals, including sample questions. It also maintains a toll-free information line (1-888-246-0016) and an Internet site (www.msde.state.md.us).

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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