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MSPAP party participants may be lulled out of reality Test: State's education elite fete the program's longevity despite its less-than-stellar scores.


REPORT CARD DAY for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) is becoming the social event of the year among state educators.

Last year -- or was it the year before? -- it was harps and flowers. This year, more than 200 spectators showed up yesterday to share pastry, bagels and orange juice and hear the Peabody Preparatory Violin Choir (they don't actually sing, but they play beautifully). They also heard from grand old parties -- state education board President Walter Sondheim Jr. and William Donald Schaefer, among others.

You're nobody if you don't get an invitation to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's report card party at the state education department's headquarters on West Baltimore Street. We spotted a couple of crashers. They know who they are.

On report card day, PTA presidents hobnob with union presidents. Superintendents from places such as Kent County (which continues to excel on MSPAP) get their day in the spotlight. Principals from schools such as Salem Avenue Elementary in Hagerstown and John Humbird in Cumberland, two success stories, come to take bows with their teachers and parents.

Over in the corner, under the balloons, Grasmick huddles with Sondheim, still laughing at himself at 90, and state Comptroller-elect Schaefer, her dear friend and patron, still pixilated at 77. Sondheim started it all with his commission report on Maryland's schools nine years ago. Schaefer, as governor, appointed that commission and helped give birth to MSPAP in the early '90s.

Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore delegate who might be Baltimore mayor, takes time to remind the school people -- without smiling -- that they are mightily dependent on the General Assembly. But Rawlings is proud of MSPAP and his role in perpetuating it.

"All around the country," he says, "people are looking to Maryland. Other states have retreated because they've gotten weak in the knees."

MSPAP has led a remarkably charmed life.

Whatever one thinks of the program, it seems certain to last another four years, at least through the second term of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. That would mean 12 years of execution and nine full years of data collecting. When the Department of Education puts the data it's collected on the Web in two weeks, citizens of the world will be able to examine MSPAP and draw their own conclusions.

So MSPAP has been given a long life, but is it successful?

The hugs and violin music yesterday might have lulled partygoers out of the reality: The MSPAP report card gives a statewide grade of not much better than a C -- a D in Baltimore.

Improving, yes. But as Grasmick points out, trouble spots exist in reading, in the education of African-Americans and in middle-school instruction.

Which detracts only slightly from a "swellegant, elegant" report card party.

'Accessible' writings from professors' pens

"Charming Billy," the surprise National Book Award winner for fiction by Johns Hopkins Professor Alice McDermott, is one of the hottest tickets in town. Don't be surprised if it's sold out.

But here, in time for the holidays, are a few other 1998 books by Baltimore professors that are "accessible" -- that is, readable outside academia:

"Games for the Soul," by Drew Leder, associate professor of philosophy at Loyola College. The subtitle is "40 Playful Ways to Find Fun and Fulfillment in a Stressful World."

"Just Let Me Say This About That," by John Bricuth. Bricuth is the pen name of John Irwin, a colleague of McDermott's at Hopkins and former chairman of the Hopkins Writing Seminars. This is a hilarious narrative poem in the form of a news conference conducted by "Sir," who could be God, the president or everybody's father. Take your pick.

"The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Chemical Quest," by Lawrence Principe, assistant professor of chemistry at Hopkins. Principe examines the 17th-century scientist's secret pursuit: alchemy.

"Moral Crisis in the Schools: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know," by Donald J. Reitz, professor of school law and management at Loyola College. Reitz, a veteran of 40 years of teaching and former superintendent of schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese, calls for the return of values to education.

"Changing Urban Education," edited by Clarence N. Stone, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. This anthology includes an interesting chapter on Baltimore schools.

Coming this month: "Building the Invisible Orphanage," by Matthew A. Crenson, professor of political science at Hopkins. Crenson examines the connection between the decline of the orphanage and the rise of welfare.

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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