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Hard lessons on MSPAP Carroll County: Low cost/high performance formula of the past may have been stretched to the limit.


THE LEVELING OFF of Carroll scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests did not come without warning. Brian L. Lockard, then-county superintendent, admitted last February "we've lost ground already." He was referring to scores on the SAT test, taken by college-bound Carroll seniors, which had dipped below the previous year.

The MSPAP composite score of Carroll third- , fifth- and eighth-grade pupils taking the statewide tests last spring actually rose -- by less than 2 percent. But the average gain for the 24 school systems was 5.5 percent. Carroll slipped from second in Maryland to third, behind perennial leader Howard County and Harford County.

More important, Carroll student performance fell in eight of the 18 MSPAP assessment areas, compared with 1997 scores.

There are many possible excuses, including the relatively low expense per pupil in Carroll County public schools (ranking 21st in Maryland). the county's low cost/high performance record has long comforted educators, politicians and the community. But Mr. Lockard saw school resources dangerously stretched to the limit, in pursuit of tighter budgets.

The recent MSPAP scores may signal a complacency within the county, an acceptance of the annual ritual of this statewide testing.

Teachers are used to the test by now. They are no longer fighting to abolish or change it. They know they must teach their pupils how to excel. Students also understand the test better: Nearly every Carroll eighth-grader and fifth-grader who took the latest test had taken a previous MSPAP exam earlier in their schooling.

More than 56 percent of tested students in Carroll passed this year. But in two years, the state goal is 70 percent. That likely won't be met. These tests are hard, deliberately so. They require inspiration and education of students and community support.

Pub date: 12/11/98

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