THE MARYLAND State Department of Education put a positive spin on the nervously awaited school performance test scores released Tuesday. After all, results of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) show student performance in grades three, five and eight improved statewide for the fifth year in a row. That means performance has climbed more than 12 percentage points since the first test results were released.
Among the bright spots: At Van Bokkelen Elementary, in Anne Arundel County, students performing at satisfactory levels jumped from 8 percent in 1995 to 19 percent. In Baltimore County, Fullerton Elementary has boosted scores 34.5 percentage points since 1993.
But the news is not all good. In spite of schools' steady gains, only 44 percent of Maryland students received satisfactory MSPAP scores. By any grading scale, a score of 44 percent is failing. That Maryland schools are not failing as spectacularly as they have in the past offers small comfort.
Add to that distinctly slower progress in places such as Baltimore. Citywide, the percentage of third-graders scoring satisfactory in reading continued a positive pattern, increasing from 9.2 percent in 1994 to 16.6 percent this year. But eighth-grade reading scores in the city fell for the first time since 1993.
There are other troubling signs, too. Statewide, student performance -- particularly in reading -- slowed during middle school. And the report found a "wide gulf" separated the performance of many minority students from that of their peers.
Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, says task forces are focusing on both problems. Tuesday's findings should add urgency to the search for solutions.
State educators rightly caution that the latest scores must be viewed in context: The tests are among the nation's most rigorous. Likewise, state education officials deserve credit for sticking with the tough academic yardstick at a time when some states have bowed to public pressure for less-demanding exams.
The good news is that most Maryland schools have progress to report. The formidable challenge comes in ensuring this success reaches more students.
Pub Date: 12/09/98