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Reading plan begun in '98 may be a model for state

November 29, 2000

Reading plan begun in '98 may be a model for state



Test results are due out for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test this week, and top educators hope to see an improvement in eighth graders' reading scores. What they're saying makes it look as if the Washington County school board's plan for improving reading skills is something other systems should look at.

Two years ago this system made reading instruction the system's top priority, adding reading teachers in elementary and middle schools. Last year, the county schools improved overall for the sixth straight year, moving form No. 13 to eighth among the 24 systems in Maryland. Reading scores were up as well, with third and fifth graders here ranking sixth and fifth respectively in the state.

What state officials worry about, however, is a statewide leveling off of reading scores for eighth graders. In the past six years, statewide reading scores have only increased by one point, as opposed to a nine-point jump in the state average of all other parts of the test.

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A few months ago, a state task force found there wasn't enough emphasis on reading instruction in the middle schools, even though that's the time when students begin reading more difficult texts, on subjects like science and math.

Washington County seems to be on the right track with its emphasis on reading improvement, although an extension of the initiative is on hold because its champion, Edwin Hayes, was defeated in the recent school board election.

To improve scores, the state should consider two things. The first is a suggestion by Mark Musick, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, who recommended that Maryland officials stop treating the MSPAP test as a state secret. Release the test, Musick said, and there'll be more public support for it.

The second thing is to look at the possibility that eighth graders are smart enough to figure out that MSPAP doesn't affect their own grade averages, and so don't try hard to do well. If it doesn't matter to them personally, some students will conclude it doesn't matter at all.

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