Maryland State Department of Education

MSDE Bulletin

Keeping You Current on Education Reform in Maryland

March 31, 2000 Vol. 11, No. 6

What Every Teacher Needs to Know About MSPAP

Why does Maryland use the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP)?

MSPAP tests schools' mastery of the Maryland Learning Outcomes, which were created in 1990 to specify what students should know and be able to do as a result of their educational experiences. MSPAP is essential to Maryland's school improvement efforts because it shows what is, and what is not, working at the state, local, and school levels. This information is key to planning and refining improvement initiatives.

Why do we need accountability in Maryland schools?

The purpose of accountability in school reform is to introduce and maintain a focus of resources and assistance to schools and systems that need it. Accountability also prods self-analysis and continual improvement, which are essential for success in all areas, including public education.

Why has Maryland set such high expectations with MSPAP?

The state has set expectations high because students must be able to compete in a world economy. Careers in the 21st century will reflect a more global society and economy driven by rapid advances in technology. Maryland schools must afford students the opportunity to be competitive, nationally and globally, upon graduation. The rigor of MSPAP is a response to the need to raise expectations for students and schools. Also, the Maryland Learning Outcomes are challenging, and MSPAP reflects this.

Is it fair that all schools are held to the same standards?

If Maryland is to improve the learning and achievement of all its students, the same challenging expectations used to gauge the progress of wealthy or otherwise advantaged schools must also be used to gauge the progress of schools with large populations of disadvantaged students. The alternative is to create separate, lower expectations for students based on statistical predilection rather than potential. Such an inequitable system would do a grave disservice to those students needing the most help.

Is MSPAP developmentally appropriate?

Yes. The test is developed by experienced Maryland educators. Checks are in place to ensure developmentally appropriate tasks and materials. Local school media specialists select reading materials in topic areas, and reading content area staff review materials for bias, sensitivity, and readability. After third-, fifth-, and eighth-grade “average readers” read the material with state reading specialists, an analysis is conducted to determine if the readability is appropriate. Only materials that average readers can read independently and show evidence of construction of meaning are used on MSPAP.

Also, third-, fifth-, and eighth-grade teachers, educational psychologists, instructional supervisors, principals, and university faculty review MSPAP tasks to ensure that they are developmentally appropriate for the grade level in which they are to be administered. MSPAP tasks also are field-tested in other states, and Content Coordinator Teams review and sign-off on the tasks.

MSPAP's emphasis on higher-order thinking skills, such as reasoning and problem-solving, is based firmly in research that shows young children possess these skills and that these skills should be cultivated in the early grades.

Who scores MSPAP and when?

After MSPAP testing is complete, tests are collected and scored by an independent scoring contractor using trained Maryland teachers. For approximately four to seven weeks in June and July, at several sites across Maryland, approximately 750 Maryland teachers score MSPAP tasks.

Do MSPAP scorers receive special training?

Scorers are trained before scoring begins. The training process takes place over several days and gives scorers ample opportunity to read the MSPAP scoring tools, to learn the MSPAP scoring guidelines, and to practice task scoring. After scorers practice, their ability to score accurately is tested using “qualifying sets,” to ensure quality control in scoring. Only scorers who have successfully passed the qualifying sets are retained.

Additional training and materials are used to diagnose and prevent individual and/or team drift from scoring criteria during the scoring process. Training is continuous throughout the scoring process. Scorers regularly receive feedback and, if necessary, attend mini training sessions.

Do scorers have any expertise in the content area they are scoring?

At the eighth-grade level, teams of mathematics, science, social studies, and reading/writing/language usage teachers score within their subject area or in integrated areas (e.g., science/mathematics) where appropriate. At grades three and five, where most teachers work across subjects, teachers may score various content areas.

What happens when students are absent during MSPAP testing?

Depending on the length of their absence, students may receive a score of zero or an algorithmic score. Algorithmic scoring is a process for estimating a score for students who complete most, but not all, of a task. To be eligible for algorithmic scoring, a student must have attempted at least 60 percent of the content area and at least eight independent items.

In 1999, in response to educator concerns about the negative impact of absenteeism on school scores, the state introduced the MSPAP Adjusted Average, which reports the average performance of only the students who actually took the test. This means that schools and systems now can see how well they did on MSPAP before taking into account absent students.

Questions about administering MSPAP?

Contact your school test coordinator. He or she works closely with your school system's Local Accountability Coordinator and will be able to answer any questions about the test.

Maryland Education on the Web

There is a wealth of information and resources available to parents and teachers on the World Wide Web. To learn more about Maryland public education, visit these four sites:

Maryland State Department of Education Home Page
Research state education programs and teacher certification requirements.
Download publications and news releases.

School Improvement in Maryland
Learn how to interpret student achievement data.
Compare your school's MSPAP scores to schools with similar student populations.
Download the Maryland Learning Outcomes, MSPAP public release tasks, and task force reports.

The Maryland School Performance Report
Research MSPAP and functional test results.
View trends. Now available are data on special services, enrollment, and attendance rates.

Minority Achievement in Maryland
Keep up-to-date on Maryland's Education That is Multicultural regulations.
Access a directory of organizations and resources related to diversity and multicultural      education.

MSDE Bulletin
School & Community Outreach Office
Maryland State Department of Education
200 W. Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Web site:

Ronald Peiffer
Assistant State Superintendent

Lauren Proutt