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Joint Teachers/Principals Letter Questions MSPAP

February 11, 2002
Note: The following letter was sent to Dr. Nancy Grasmick, Maryland state superintendent of schools, by the presidents of the major organizations representing teachers and principals of the Montgomery County Public Schools. In summary, the letter questions the state's plans for continuing the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) this year.
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Montgomery County Association of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel
Montgomery County Education Association
Montgomery County Elementary School Administrators Association
Montgomery County Secondary School Administrators Association


February 6, 2002

Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick
State Superintendent of Schools
Maryland State Department of Education
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201-2595

Dear Dr. Grasmick:

As the teachers and administrators in Montgomery County Public Schools, we find ourselves at a loss trying to explain to our students, parents, and communities the drop in scores on the 2001 administration of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) that 120 schools in our school system experienced. We are writing to you for advice on how to answer the questions and criticisms that have erupted and continue to swirl around the release of the 2001 MSPAP data.

We are baffled by the inconsistencies between the most recent MSPAP results and the academic trends and accomplishments in many individual schools. Over the last several years, there have been many examples of the successful efforts of Montgomery County principals, teachers, parents and students in implementing greater rigor and improving academic performance. These achievements are reflected in student progress on a variety of critical measures, including the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, the SAT, and the Third International Math and Science Study. How do we explain the huge drop in scores from last year to this of schools that did not experience staff turnover or changes in student demographics? How do we respond to the schools that brought in consultants from the Maryland State Department of Education to provide direct and intensive support for instructional improvement, only to find that the MSPAP scores in those schools went down?

How do we respond to the teachers in our schools given the questions and criticisms that MSPAP scorers have raised regarding the scoring of last year's tests? When teachers who scored the tests state that they received inadequate training, that they were pushed to grade tests too quickly in order to increase the number of tests scored each day, and that they witnessed rubric changes in the middle of the testing process, confidence in the scoring process is badly eroded, perhaps beyond repair. How do we defend the reliability of the scoring process when we receive reports of a targeted accuracy rate of just 70 percent and charges that the scorers were easily able to identify school locations, thereby potentially biasing those scorers?

As part of our effort to try to understand the drop in scores, teachers and administrators in two schools systematically compared their individual student MSPAP scores with other data about those same students and found a significant number of excellent readers who received 4s and 5s in reading on MSPAP and conversely, found struggling readers by all other measures who scored well on MSPAP. The deeper we look, the more questions we have.

How do we respond to the parents in our communities who have been asking us to validate or invalidate the concerns about the 2001 MSPAP administration and scoring reported in every major newspaper and local media outlet? Parents in our communities have been clamoring for individual student results from the MSPAP for years. These same parents are openly questioning validity of the 2001 MSPAP results in many communities because the results contradict what they know about their children’s schools; sadly, many parents are simply dismissing these results because they believe the test to be irreparably flawed. We fear that an increasing number of students will not be sent to school during the MSPAP testing weeks because their parents believe the test to be a waste of time.

How do we respond to our students when they ask why the scores in their schools went down in 2001? Principals and teachers have worked exhaustively with students to provide an instructional program that should ensure success on the MSPAP. Yet 100 of our 118 elementary schools saw their scores decline, with 26 schools seeing their scores plummet more than 10 points from the previous year. Most heartbreaking is the fact that we cannot explain to our own students why their scores went down; we are at a loss to give good reasons for the declines in most of our schools. Our school system's Office of Shared Accountability conducted a study of the MSPAP that suggested the tests were scored at a higher, more difficult level because of possible error in the state's year-to-year equating process. If this information is true, then our students are chasing an ever-moving target, and their enthusiasm and desire to do well on the MSPAP will be quickly extinguished.

We are strong defenders of continuous improvement efforts in all schools, and we are firm believers in data-based accountability measures. We have supported the state's Schools for Success program by aligning our teaching with the Maryland Learner Outcomes, by redesigning our curriculum from kindergarten through high school, and by initiating early childhood programs at an unprecedented level. But we need your help explaining the 2001 MSPAP data and answering the many criticisms of this assessment program. Teachers and administrators have worked too hard to improve student learning to be faced now with data that is counterintuitive to what we know from other measures. We eagerly await your advice on how to handle the crisis in confidence that the MSPAP is facing in our schools and communities. We would like to work with the state by sharing what we have found. We urge MSDE to undertake a serious analysis with us before moving forward with the next administration of MSPAP in order to regain confidence in the integrity of the state assessment program.

Sincerely,

Daniel Shea, President
Montgomery County Association of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel

Mark Simon, President
Montgomery County Education Association

Dawn E. Ellis, President
Montgomery County Association of Secondary School Administrators

Timothy Riggott, Co-President
Montgomery County Association of Elementary School Administrators

Michael Headman, Co-President
Montgomery County Association of Elementary School Administrators


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