When teachers in the Carroll County Public Schools in Maryland initiated a hands-on science curriculum more than ten years ago, it was the start of a revolution.
The curriculum was designed to encourage students to develop useful scientific skills, such as the ability to observe, measure accurately, and use data to support conclusions. It attracted widespread attention and is now used to teach more than 700,000 students nationwide. It also sparked changes in the way the state measures science achievement -- the Maryland Science Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), adopted in 1993, incorporates the kinds of hands-on tasks that Carroll County pioneered.
MSPAP is a model of how state assessments can better match classroom activities and the skills that students need to master. "Teaching to the test can be a good thing when the test is valid and reflects your goals in the classroom," says Suzanne Peters, a science teacher.
The district is also working to make sure that all of its 25,000 students, regardless of their abilities and backgrounds, can meet standards that require them to analyze and think independently.
Carroll County teachers incorporated animation and sound into problems like those encountered on the MSPAP to produce a CD-ROM used for independent practice. Recent results show that Carroll County students consistently rank among the highest in the state on the MSPAP, despite attending one of Maryland's lower-income districts.