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School board says reading will be top priority

November 14, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Six goals developed Friday for Washington County schools call for improvements in reading, strategic planning, math and technology.

Of the six targets, developed in a morning meeting by the Washington County Board of Education and newly appointed Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr., the priority was boosting students' reading scores.

If students are having trouble reading, not only will they have problems making their way through a textbook, but assignments like word math problems will present roadblocks, board members said.

"If you can't read, you might as well forget about every other subject," said board member Doris J. Nipps.

The board's goal is to have 85 percent of the district's third-graders reading at that grade level by the end of the third-grade term.

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According to the 1996 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, 36 percent of the county's third-graders could read at that level.

Board of Education President B. Marie Byers said she also wants to ensure that the size of reading classes are reasonable, that teachers have enough materials and that they have enough time to teach.

Byers said one teacher told her that some students are getting a half-hour of reading lessons every other day.

"That's ridiculous," said Byers, saying classes need to be more consistent.

The second goal was a comprehensive plan for curriculum development, competitive teacher compensation packages and other initiatives. The comprehensive plan will spell out ways to reach the reading goal and address weaknesses indentified in a curriculum audit released in September, Nipps said.

The audit identified a wide range of problems in schools, such as shortcomings in curriculum development and infrequent use of computers.

The third goal is making sure students have a mastery of math skills taught at the fourth-grade level. Fourth-grade math lessons include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, number concepts, place value, statistics, probability and graphing.

Other goals are reviewing programs for at-risk students, improving professional development and improving technology use in grades kindergarten through grade 12, board members said.

Bartlett will meet with central office staff to develop specific targets that they believe are appropriate for the goals. He then will present the additions to the board for approval, board members said.

Some of the programs could be put together quickly and included in the 1998-99 budget, which must be presented to the Washington County Commissioners in March.

Other goals will be hammered-out during a retreat the board is planning to hold in the summer, board members said.

Although Bartlett said it is hard to determine how much the goals will cost the system, "I can see dollar figures all over it."

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