Allowing a peek at the new state test, schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday that Maryland students will be able to compare their scores with those of peers across the nation.
Grasmick said the test that replaces the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program next spring will yield two sets of scores, one measuring students' mastery of the state's curriculum, the other measuring Marylanders against national standards.
"One of the complaints about MSPAP is that it didn't allow us to compare ourselves with other states," Grasmick said. "Having two measures should be helpful to students, to teachers and to us. I know of no other state that's doing this."
Although this will be the first chance for Marylanders to see how they stack up against other students through an official state test, commercial standardized tests given annually in even-numbered grades measure Marylanders' performance against national norms.
State education officials are in the final stages of negotiating with commercial testing firms, Grasmick said, and should have a contract signed by the end of this month.
Maryland is receiving $6.7 million from the federal government to design the test.
The new state test will be given next spring in grades three, five, eight and 10, Grasmick told the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education at a meeting in downtown Baltimore.
The new federal No Child Left Behind Act requires all states to test reading and mathematics in grades three through eight, but it leaves the choice of tests up to individual states.
Maryland officials, consulting with Achieve Inc., a Washington-based testing consultant, have been designing an exam that is customized to Maryland's curriculum but comparable with national standards.
The test, state officials have said, will consist of multiple-choice items and short essay answers known as "constructed response."
"If there's not a high degree of compatibility between the state and national standards, we haven't done our job," the superintendent said.
After a 10-year, sometimes contentious run, the MSPAP was abandoned last spring.
The battery of tests, which called for essay answers to various "tasks," did not yield individual student scores, another requirement of the new federal law.
Signed into law in January, the No Child Left Behind Act has made a growth industry of the testing business, sparking about $300 million in new sales.
Assistant state Superintendent Ronald A. Peiffer said test sales representatives are beating a path to the Education Department's West Baltimore Street doorstep.
Some have gone so far as to recruit friends of Maryland education officials just to make introductions, Peiffer said.
Grasmick and Sandy Kress, a senior adviser to President Bush who helped write and push the new legislation through Congress, defended the increased testing in talks to the business group.
"Unless we know where each child is, how can we make sure no child is left behind?" Kress asked.
"If we don't know failure, we can't correct it, and if we don't know achievement, we can't reward it," Grasmick added.
She also told the business group that for the first time, scores on the new high school exams will be noted on students' transcripts this school year. The Business Roundtable has asked employers to use transcripts in making hiring decisions.
The group of 100 leading Maryland businesses announced yesterday that it will extend its 10-year-old education initiative to promote public education and reform at least until 2010.