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Schools hope computer boost scores

April 05, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

New computers next year will help teachers prepare students for high school assessments in 2001, according to Washington County Schools Supervisor of Secondary Mathematics Leslie Hobbs.

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Last week, the Maryland State Board of Education awarded a $425,000 federal grant to Washington County Schools to identify at-risk students and help them pass the tests, which will be required for every diploma.

Hobbs, who wrote the grant application, said the money will be used to buy software and computer equipment for each of the county's middle and high schools and hire a project manager.

Teachers will use the equipment to build a database linking the schools so they can exchange curricular information, share lesson plans and ideas. "To me, this is really pulling us all together," Hobbs said.

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The project, dubbed Technology Improving Pupil Success (TIPS), will be completed in three phases with separate funding. For example, the state awarded $200,000 in the first phase, which is a year long and begins July 1.

The county is scheduled to receive $150,000 in the second phase and $75,000 in the third phase, both of which are 18 months long.

Hobbs said the "computer-based instructional management system" will help educators identify at least 90 percent of students who are at risk of not earning a diploma.

If it works well, the state board plans to duplicate the system in other districts, she said.

The grant is awarded through a federal program known as Goals 2000, part of the Educate America Act President Clinton signed into law in March 1994. It is intended to provide federal money to the states in order to raise academic standards.

The upcoming high school assessments have the same goal. Students entering the ninth grade in the fall of 2001 will be required to pass tests in English, government, and algebra or geometry.

"We can't wait until these students are in high school and they fail," said Hobbs.

Of the initial $200,000, about $94,000 will pay for 10 computers, servers, printers and software called AbacusXP. It will also buy four optical scanners for the high schools. The middle schools already have scanners, Hobbs said.

About $50,000 will pay the salary and benefits of the project manager, a position that will be advertised. Hobbs said $20,000 will be used to train teachers on the system.

The remaining funds will pay for maintenance, supplies and fixed administrative costs.

The equipment will be installed in phases to one high school and middle school per marking period, beginning in the fall. No decision has been made about which cluster will be first.

Washington County schools have used AbacusXP before with success, Hobbs said. In 1994, math teachers used it for functional tests. The computer program can grade tests quickly using answer sheets with "bubbles" that can be scanned.

The fast results spurred the students to improve, Hobbs said. In Springfield Middle School, the average score rose from 85 to 93 percent in a year. "This was very motivating to the students," she said.

Hobbs believes the computer grading will help target each student's individual needs. "It will give each teacher information about which students have mastered the objective and give remediation where it's needed," she said.

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