Recently, variation upon a well-established hippocampal model has given rise to a new paradigm in which the strength of synaptic inputs to neocortical layer 2/3 is estimated in vitro by recording synaptically driven extracellular potentials elicited there by electrical stimulation applied to underlying layer 4. The analysis of these potentials is commonly based upon an assumption that postsynaptic spiking has played no significant role in their generation. Here, we have tested this assumption by quantifying in rats (using data obtained by cell-attached recording) the rate at which unit spikes are elicited in layer 2/3 under commonly used conditions of stimulation and recording. We found that spike responses were regularly elicited at the same latencies as field potential peaks and the rising phases of intracellularly recorded synaptic currents, and the incidence of such spiking (the fractional rate of cells spiking versus cells sampled) was sufficient to give this higher-order activity a major role in determining response amplitudes. We then analyzed layer 2/3 waveform characteristics before and after inducing long-term potentiation (LTP) by theta-burst stimulation (TBS) and found that the induction of LTP succeeded only when the initial response included a strong spike component. We further observed that LTP expression was always accompanied by a pronounced enhancement of such components. Our data suggest that, unlike in hippocampal CA1, LTP elicited by TBS in this neocortical paradigm depends upon modification of synaptically driven spike activity, through either enhanced synchronization of unitary responses, the recruitment of additional responding units, or both. This potentiation of the spike response could arise (as previously proposed) through an increase in the efficacy of synapses mediating projection from layer 4 to 2/3, but other mechanisms may also contribute, such as modification of short-range recurrent connections within layer 2/3, which are likely to play an important role in defining local-network cell ensembles.