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Tests show reading skills are improving

March 03, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

New reading tests show younger elementary school students are improving their skills.

The Washington County Board of Education put reading teachers in the county's 25 elementary schools at the beginning of the school year last September. A School Board committee created tests to monitor students' progress.

Elementary Reading Supervisor James Newkirk presented data from the first two marking periods to School Board members Tuesday.

The results show improvement in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2.

At the end of November, kindergarten teachers tested 1,436 students for "concepts of print," such as the ability to isolate words on a page and recognize the parts of a book.

They tested students again in February. Between the two marking periods, the number of students performing at the highest level went from 33 percent to 77 percent.

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First-graders were tested using specific books picked as benchmarks, each one slightly harder than the last. Teachers measured how the students retold the stories of "I'm Brave" in November and "Wake Up, Mom!" in February.

At the end of the first period, 13 percent of about 1,580 students scored above the standard level. At the end of the second period, 43 percent scored above the level.

In the second grade, teachers used the books "Soup" and "The Manly Ferry Pigeon." Of some 1,604 students, 40 percent scored above the standard level both periods while those scoring on level rose from 19 percent to 25 percent.

In grades 3, 4 and 5, teachers used a different assessment modeled after Maryland State Performance Assessment Program tests that require a written response.

Students were tested in each period for different aspects of reading comprehension such as overall understanding of the text, relating it to personal experience, developing a critical response and interpretation.

Because the testing strategies are different for each marking period, that data is not comparable, Newkirk said.

The first round of results is baseline data that will be used for comparison in the coming years. The data gives teachers and administrators a way of measuring and monitoring progress at the class, school and county level, according to Newkirk.

"Teachers now have a target to shoot for," he said. "We didn't have that in Washington County."

It also enables teachers to estimate the abilities of students who transfer from one school to another. "Everyone's on the same page," Newkirk said.

Hickory Elementary School reading teacher Erin Wolford said the tests help teachers figure out where students' have strengths and weaknesses. "I think teachers have really used this information to impact instruction in a positive way," she said.

Boonsboro Elementary School teacher Tina Stowell said the tests are a tool to monitor students' growth. "It really helps you look not just at the individual but the whole program," she said.

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