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Mindful for Maryland State Assessments

Are you new to the MSA? If you’re not exactly sure what that is, then welcome to Maryland State Assessment 101. The Maryland State Assessment is a test given each March or April to children in grades 3-8. It tests them on reading and mathematics skills and, beginning this year, science*. The test is administered to students over the course of six days; each test is approximately two hours long. It’s an intimidating process, to be sure, but you can believe that your Maryland school system has worked hard to prepare students for the test. Now it’s your turn. After reading this article, you’ll know what to expect from the test, and you’ll be prepared, too.
No Cramming Necessary

Parents who wonder if they should tutor their children to prepare for the test can rest easy. No cramming is necessary.

The Criteria and Reference Testing section (CRT) of the MSA is used to assess the student’s knowledge of what has been already taught in the classroom. These are the scores that matter to your child’s school.

“Our curriculum is completely aligned with instruction and assessment,” says Karen Hunter, Calvert County Supervisor of System Performance. “Kids and teachers are not caught by surprise. The MSA just measures how well they are progressing.”

In a sense, she explains, your child has been studying for this “final” all along. In fact, students begin learning about the MSA long before their teachers instruct them to bring a No. 2 pencil.

Students in lower grades are trained with timed individual activities. Teachers also build in independent activities so students become accustomed to a period when they can’t seek assistance from their teachers. They take benchmark tests four times every year beginning in as early as the first grade. Teachers also prepare students by creating a temporary classroom setting that mimics the physical setting of the room during administration of the MSA. The students’ desks, which are normally clustered, are moved so that they are spaced throughout the room. All of this is done in hopes to make students more comfortable when it is time for them to take their first MSA.

There is a portion of the MSA, tagged as a Norm Reference Test (NRT), which is used as a national reference to see where your student ranks along national averages. This portion may have material that is not covered by the curriculum, but these results are no longer reported. These data are collected for informational purposes only. The NRT scores will appear on parents’ reports, but teachers and administrators urge parents to pay more attention to the CRT scores.

Positive Reinforcement Works

Some local school officials encourage testing success more creatively and enthusiastically than others. At Mills-Parole Elementary in Annapolis, for example, Principal Alfreda Adams holds a big pep rally to celebrate the MSA. The rally is designed to invigorate students and encourage them to do their very best. The school also facilitates class collaboration for test preparation activities and sponsors a school-wide promotional campaign that features motivational posters and letters.

Sue Bachmann, the principal at Harman Elementary, takes an individual approach to boost testing success. Going from class to class, she asks students to sign contracts that include commitments such as “Don’t give up” and “Try to answer each question.” If the students fulfill their contracts, they are rewarded with a school dance.

More About the MSA

The Maryland Board of Education website includes MSA basics, details about school curriculums and an explanation about how
to read the reports.

Website describes how each school in Maryland has rated in previous MSA testing

By Jennifer Murphy

Jennifer Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, a wife and the mother of two children.

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