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Eighth-grade scores alarm school officials

December 16, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Washington County school officials are crafting a plan to boost sagging eighth-grade test scores.

Eighth-graders' marks fell in all six subjects on the Maryland School Performance Assessment program tests for 1997-98, results of which were released last week.

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"It is alarming and it is concerning for us," Theresa M. Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction, told the Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday.

Overall, Washington County students continued to steadily improve on the MSPAP tests, just as they have since the tests were first given in 1993.

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But this year, eighth grade scores dropped in all areas - reading, writing, language usage, math, science and social studies. The biggest drop occurred in reading scores.

Flak couldn't blame the plunge on any one thing.

Part of the problem is that middle schools weren't spending enough time teaching reading, she said.

At one time, middle schools spent 90 minutes a day on reading and grammar.

But the time was cut back a few years ago to accommodate larger class sizes as children of the baby boomers began reaching middle school.

Administrators are working on ways to increase the amount of time spent on reading, she said.

They also are considering adding reading specialists to the middle schools similar to the specialists put in place at elementary schools last year, she said.

Board member B. Marie Byers said teaching methods also are to blame for declining eighth-grade reading scores.

Elementary schools had adopted a whole language approach to reading but are now shifting back to more traditional methods such as phonics, she said.

The board has made a change in its reading administration, assigning one staff member to oversee middle school reading, in an attempt to improve the situation.

Board member Andrew Humphreys said the board might need to consider remediation for middle school students when it prepares its next budget.

"We know where our challenge lies," Flak said.

Flak pointed to examples of outstanding achievement on the tests such as Salem Avenue Elementary School.

"This is our beacon of hope that tells us it is possible," she said.

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