New system helps track students' progress

November 04, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

Most commonly known as a counting tool made up of rods and beads, an abacus is known around Washington County Public Schools as a tool to find out more about student performance.

A lot like its calculating namesake, Abacus, a school-system-wide computer system stores and tracks students' test scores, showing areas in which each student excels and needs improvement.

This is the first year the system will be used county-wide to track students.

Abacus was received through a TIPS (technology improving pupil success) grant in 1999, which placed the computer system in all county middle and high schools, said Dennis Smith, the Abacus specialist with the county school system.


Now all elementary schools that feed into North and South Hagerstown high schools have Abacus, Brown said.

By the end of the school year, every school in the county will have the system, Smith said.

Smith said the instructional management system can provide resources for county teachers, who can, based on student test scores, tap into the system to discover how well they are teaching their subjects, right down to single curriculum objectives.

Teachers can use results in parent conferences to pinpoint what the child's scores actually mean based on objectives that are related to individual test questions.

The system stores tests taken on Scantron answer sheets, which are fed through each school's scanner.

Scores are updated on the students' records.

"You can get a snapshot of the entire class," said Bob Brown, supervisor of testing and accountability programs for the school system.

The system coordinates well with expectations set by The No Child Left Behind act, which will ask school systems to monitor groups of children, distinguished by gender, race, poverty levels and English proficiency, Brown said.

The NCLB act also asks the school system to determine adequate yearly progress of individual schools, he said.

Both demands can be researched and developed by using Abacus, Brown said.

Brown said math teachers especially benefit from the program because they enter reports directly related to their numbered courses into the system about 11 times a year.

Smith said once teachers make lesson plans, administrators review them and the plan is entered into the system.

Attendance is also factored into Abacus, along with all information on individual students: class schedules, special programs, home addresses, student service learning hours and contact people.

The system is very secure, Smith said. Every teacher has a password and the system locks up after a few minutes. Abacus is not on the Internet.

Smith said the system remembers virtually everything, including any changes made to students' scores after they've been entered into the system.

Elementary school teachers are filling in answers to test questions for their students, who don't have the motor skills to color in the tiny squares on the Scantron forms. Smith said in January the elementary schools will get larger sheets so teachers won't have to spend extra time filling in the squares.

The Herald-Mail Articles