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Staff writer

Elementary and middle school students are putting their math skills to paper this week for the Maryland School Assessments.

The MSAs are tests given to students in grades 3 through 8 in math and reading to satisfy requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Students are taking MSA math tests this week and will take MSA reading tests next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Schools in Charles County spent some time during the days leading up to the test encouraging students with pep rallies and activities related to MSA.

At C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School in Waldorf, students were divided into small groups and rotated among 14 activity stations for part of the day Monday. Stations focused on math subjects, and some were centered on pumping students up for the test.

For example, one group spent time playing MSA Squares, a take on the game show Hollywood Squares. Students answered math word problems and earned tickets toward prizes for after testing.

In Principal Amy Hollstein’s office, a station was set up for students to design their own encouragement cards to have during the test to keep them motivated.

Kaevahn Butler, 9, drew a picture of a foot, which would remind him to put his best foot into the MSAs.

Kaevahn said he was excited for the test.

As a third-grade student, this will be his first experience taking the MSA.

He said he would “always go back to my answers and check my work.”

By doing that, Kaevahn said, he would be in a better position to score advanced on the test.

NCLB mandated that all students must score at proficient levels by 2014, and progress toward that goal was measured statewide by Adequate Yearly Progress.

AYP no longer will be part of the accountability process, replaced by the Maryland School Performance/Progress Index.

The new school progress plan will pay special attention to the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools in the state and schools with a significant gap between the average scores of the all-student group and the lowest performing subgroup.

Subgroups include minorities, lower-income students receiving free or reduced-price meals and special education students. Those schools will be grouped as focus schools, which will have a menu of items to choose from to meet their needs and reduce achievement gaps.

Students at Barnhart aren’t looking to meet any accountability standards. They seem to simply be looking to do well on a test.

“I’m just excited about reading,” said Jewel Foreman, 9, a third-grader at Barnhart.

“I think if I try my best, I’ll get advanced,” she said.

Third-grade students will take the test for the first time, but this year’s round of MSAs also marks a first for fifth- and seventh-grade students taking the MSA reading tests. They will be taking them online, as opposed to the standard paper-and-pencil test.

According to information from the school system, online testing helps implement the Common Core State Standards and nationwide Race to the Top requirements to use more technology that helps with monitoring and promoting student achievement.

Online tests are not new to Charles County students, according to information from the school system. Students take the High School Assessments online and have done so for a number of years. Fifth- and eighth-grade students have taken the science MSA online for the past four years.

Hollstein said she was nervous for her students taking online tests at first, but when observing students doing online reading activities, she said she was no longer worried.

“They like being on the computer,” she said.

Students in the school system will be testing at various times from now until March 22. Charles County third-quarter assessments are scheduled to start next week.