Maryland's public schools are about to tell all - online.
Beginning tomorrow, the state Department of Education will air mountains of data from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), including test scores and other information about every school in the state.
Parents, teachers, students and anyone else with an interest and a Web connection can find the information at the department's new "Report Card" Web site (www.msp.msde.state.md.us) - an expanded version of the annual printed report card issued every year since 1990.
Another Web site making its debut is designed to help teachers and administrators create better schools, but it's available to the public, too (www.mdk12.org). It not only offers individual school scores, as well as state and school system data, but also breaks down the numbers to show performance by specific skills and shows how many students performed satisfactorily and how many have yet to do so.
"One of our goals is to make data available in an understandable way," says Mark Moody, assistant state superintendent, who oversaw the Web site construction and content. "Once it's accessible more people will use it."
The information on the Web site has always been available, but never in one place, never at the tap of a mouse and never so clearly. The state spent about $800,000 in federal grant money for the Web sites, designed and compiled by two small Takoma Park companies.
Every year, the department mails out 20,000 to 30,000 copies of its report card booklet with statewide and school system data, Moody said. School-by-school data has been available only from local systems and individual schools. Some are open with their results, others are not.
"I don't have the feeling that they withheld it because of poor performance, but I am concerned that it's a big job to disseminate information. I think they just get overwhelmed," he said. "This is a way in which we could simplify the lives of some of the local schools and schools systems."
On the Report Card Web site, the information is presented mostly on graphs. When a user requests third- grade reading scores from a particular school, a black-and-red graph unfolds with reading scores from 1993 through 1998. The graph also indicates how near or far the school is from the state standard - 70 percent of the students performing satisfactorily.
These same graphs are available for the state as a whole, for each school system and for each of the six subject areas tested on MSPAP.
The site also includes state, system-wide and school composite scores - the average for all tests given - and statistics on enrollment, attendance, special education students and turnover. It will also break down test scores and other information by race and gender.
For "serious number crunchers," the report card site has the state department's entire MSPAP database. "They can download all the data we've got and then just knock themselves out," said Moody, who as the department's testing specialist, is himself a serious numbers man.
The Report Card site is an outgrowth of the educators' Web site, which is designed for teachers and principals who want to analyze their students' performance, compare it to others, determine strengths and weaknesses, and change their curricula and instruction accordingly.
The educators' site will break down each test into specific goals or tasks and show the school how its students performed on each. The MSPAP writing test, for instance, measures three skills: writing to inform, to persuade and to express personal ideas. Teachers can easily see where their students do best and worst, how far from satisfactory they are performing and where instruction needs to be adapted to student's needs.
This data cannot, however, be broken down into different sections of the same grade within a school, Moody said, because when students take MSPAP tests, they are randomly assigned to test groups, rather than by homeroom or teacher.
As a way to capitalize on programs that work, the Web site will, however, show educators from one school the information from other schools that have similar demographics but performed better. For instance, a school with a high percentage of students on free and reduced-price lunches - a common measure of poverty - can look at others with a similar population that outscored them, and then go to that school for help, if they wish.
"That's part of what you've got to do when you are trying to work with School Improvement Teams," Moody said. "You've got to dismiss these ready excuses" for poor performance.
The Maryland State Department of Education home page can be reached at: www.msde.state.md.us
Test scores online: The state's entire MSPAP database will be available online starting tomorrow.