Parents' lives were supposed to get easier in Maryland when the state introduced new reading and math tests last year that produced individual scores for each child.
But interpreting the complex results may lead to new headaches this summer.
The first conundrum is figuring out when your child will receive his or her scores. Public schools in the state are scheduled to send the first batch of results home over the next few weeks -- but only to the parents of students in grades 3, 5 and 8, as well as 10th-graders who took the reading test.
State school officials say the reason is because students in those grades took the Maryland School Assessments, as the tests are called, in 2003.
Students in fourth, sixth and seventh grades took the state tests for the first time this spring, and the state Board of Education has yet to set passing scores for those grades. Their results will not be available until the end of summer.
The tests are scored on a scale of zero to 800. Students' scores are ranked as basic, proficient or advanced. To pass each test, a student must at least achieve a proficient score.
The numbers will take on greater significance later in the summer when state officials use them to determine which schools are on track and which need improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The law requires that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. It mandates that states set yearly targets for the percentage of students at each school who are at least proficient on the tests. If schools do not meet those targets two years in a row, they could face consequences such as allowing students to transfer to better-performing schools. If they continue to fail, schools could be taken over by the state.
Here's the catch: Only the scores of students in third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades will affect a Maryland school's performance this year under No Child Left Behind. Because this is the first year that fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders have taken the test, state officials say their results will not count until 2005.
The whole process is a drastic change from two years ago, when students took the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, known as the MSPAP.
That test had won acclaim in education circles for encouraging critical thinking by requiring students to answer open-ended essay questions and allowing them to work in groups on part of the test. But the test was also criticized because it ranked only schools -- leaving students with no idea of how they performed on the exams individually.