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Reading scores improve

August 17, 2000

Chart: Reading ImprovesReading scores improve



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

graphic: RYAN HARPSTER / staff artist

More elementary students read on or above their grade level during the 1999-2000 school year than during the previous year, news that Elementary Reading Supervisor James Newkirk said is worthy of a celebration.

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While overall scores have improved, students going from second to third grades have struggled to perform on or above their grade levels when tested at the beginning of third grade on the Washington County reading assessments, Newkirk said.

At the end of second grade, 71 percent of students were reading on or above level. When those students were tested at the beginning of third grade, that percentage dropped to 52 percent.

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Statistics show, however, that beginning third-graders improved throughout the year and their overall year-ending scores surpassed those of the 1998-1999 third-graders.

Newkirk said students have had problems at the beginning of third grade because that's when testing begins to be based on comprehension rather than on reading fluency and decoding as it previously had been. He also said lack of instruction during summer vacation could have been a factor.

"We have a major problem," Newkirk said. "Some kids like to read words in a book, but they're not thinking at all But after a year of instruction, they came on board."

The countywide reading assessments are heading into the third year. About 7,662 students took the test last year.

Students in kindergarten through second grades are tested in each of the four marking periods on reading fluency and how well they pronounce and decode words and punctuation. Teachers use books chosen as benchmarks, which get harder each period.

In third through fifth grades, students are given comprehension questions and are tested on how well they understand what they read. They are tested in the beginning and at the end of the year.

Both testing methods score on a scale of 100. A score between 90 and 94 is considered "on level," while any score higher is considered "above level" and a score of 89 or lower is considered "below level."

For instance, at the end of the 1998-99 school year, 58 percent of the 1,426 kindergarten students tested on or above level. Last school year, with 53 fewer students, the percentage jumped to 67 percent.

"Now is the time to celebrate for Washington County," Newkirk said. " We have done well these two years of the reading initiative. Kids are getting better from one year to the next Other Maryland counties are looking at and visiting Washington County to learn about our county's reading initiative."

Newkirk said some changes will be made to the test this school year, including changing benchmark books and implementing new grade level standards. The school system also will set up a family reading plan, which includes a family reading night.

Parents will be able to talk with teachers throughout the school year on designated nights and also read with their children.

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