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Testing in Maryland: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2008-2009 Maryland used the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) to test students in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math. The Maryland High School Assessments (HSA) in algebra, biology, government and English 2 were given to students upon completion of each course. Beginning with the class of 2009, students must pass the HSA to graduate from high school. Both the MSA and HSA are standards-based tests that measure how well students are mastering specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Maryland.

How are the tests scored?

MSA results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of three levels: basic, proficient and advanced. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.

Students taking the HSA receive a scaled score for each test they take. The state has established the following passing scores for the HSA: 412 for algebra, 400 for biology, 394 for government and 396 for English 2. The goal is for all students to pass the tests. Learn more on the Maryland State Department of Education website.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

For each subject on the MSA, the combined percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level is displayed. For the HSA, the percentage of students passing each subject is displayed.

Why do the tests matter?

Maryland test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards, and some districts may use test results as a means of determining promotion from one grade to the next. Beginning with the class of 2009, students are required to pass all four HSA tests in order to graduate. Students who do not pass the tests the first time have multiple opportunities to retake the tests.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

Maryland test results are used as a measure of school performance. Schools that show progress receive recognition awards, while schools that consistently perform far below the state standards may face state intervention and possible takeover. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help.

What changes to the tests are planned for the future?

Maryland added a science component to the MSA program in grades 5 and 8 in 2008-2009.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final determination.

Search for Maryland Schools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/28/2011:
"i have reviewed and compared the city and county msa scores, and it seem to me that the county schools have what it take to prepare their kids for this test.why can't the two get together and solve the low scoring problem in the city schools because education is a civil right for every child. one shouldn't have a better education just because of where they live. the curriculum should be the same across the board, the msa test is. "
07/30/2010:
"I am glad that people are encouraged to look at more than raw test scores when judging a school."
03/16/2010:
"I am an 8th grade student who has taken the MSA test since third grade (and took the CTBS in 1st and 2nd grade when it was still being distributed) and I cannot help but wonder about the necessity of the test. It poorly shows a student's knowledge (some kids just don't test well) and through all the monotony and strict rules, regulations, and sometimes in the test itself, even propaganda I often wonder about it. It seems almost like Communism to me at times. Are we on the brink of a society where tests drill government ideals into young people's minds with endless propoganda? Are we on the brink of a society where teaching and learning becomes a thing of the past and American education is based soley on test scores? When that happens, we truly fail."
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