A lot of public elementary and middle school principals haven't slept well the past few nights, waiting for the release of the scores from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing this week.
Four years ago on this page, I lauded the MSPAP as a different, improved way to test. That was after I had administered the test to a class of fifth-graders. Since then, I've moved on to a middle school, where I have given the test to eighth-graders.
I still believe that it is an improvement over the standardized tests that required students to recognize, not generate an answer. Those standardized tests were often racially biased. I still believe that the MSPAP provides data to help teachers plan instruction.
Not a perfect test
But I never said that the MSPAP was perfect. It isn't. But by 2000, 70 percent of Maryland's public school students are expected to perform in the satisfactory range on the MSPAP. So pressure on schools is mounting while the imperfections of the assessment have hardly been ironed out.
By far the greatest flaw of the test is the absence of feedback for eighth-graders, who in typical adolescent style have been quick to realize it really does not matter for them personally what the results are.
By the time the scores are released in December, last year's eighth-graders are high school freshmen. They don't receive any feedback on how they did on the test.
Teachers work hard all year to impart the knowledge and skills students need for the MSPAP. But eighth-graders become bored and resentful when they hear too many times, "This will really help you when you take the MSPAP."
Since research tells us that feedback is critical to promote growth and improvement in our students, we should not be surprised that the improvement is not nearly as great as we desire.
In elementary school, the students, still often eager to please the adults, can be convinced that it really is important to do their best. But whoever made the call to try this with adolescents probably hasn't spent much time in a middle school.
When the state begins requiring students pass a test to graduate from high school -- beginning with the Class of 2005 -- the stakes will be high. Teachers will have most of their students' attention.
Feedback and stakes make all the difference in the world between what our students are currently doing and what they can do.
L Anne Werps is a Baltimore area public middle school teacher.
Pub Date: 12/08/98