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Teachers, students prepare for testing

January 10, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - As the school year's first semester comes to a close, Washington County Public Schools' high school teachers and students are busy preparing for the second round of Maryland High School Assessments.

The High School Assessments are a series of state standardized end-of-course exams given in the subjects of government, algebra I, geometry, English 9 and biology.

Clyde Harrell, the school system's supervisor of social studies, said workshops were held over the summer to help teachers prepare their students for the assessments.

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For HSA review, Williamsport High School government teacher Kim Spears has her students answer short essay questions in groups and go over past sample test questions, which are on the Maryland State Department of Education Web site.

A passing score for the HSAs has yet to be determined, but once a score is set by the MSDE, it likely will be a graduation requirement beginning with next year's freshman class, Washington County Public Schools' Executive Director of Secondary Education Boyd Michael III has said.

Spears said, "Regular in-class tests stress them out so I can only imagine that a three-hour test will."

She said not all of her students have access to the Internet, which keeps them from doing extra research on Maryland politics, economics and foreign policy, all covered to some extent on the HSAs.

She said she uses The Herald-Mail in classes daily to help teach students about local and national politics. This year, she said, she discovered she needed to emphasize the three branches of government - legislative, judicial and executive.

Students have to know about 10 Supreme Court cases for the assessments, Spears said.

Williamsport High freshman Maggie McDaid, 14, said, "It's tough because some of the stuff is from the beginning of the semester."

Political cartoons, charts and graphs accompany some assessment questions.

"It's easier with the pictures," said Williamsport High senior Jason Smith, 18, who has had to repeat the government class.

He said he feels more comfortable taking the test now, but is worried about questions about economics.

Harrell said Benchmark Tests, developed by teams of teachers through the School Board, also help prepare teachers and students for the HSAs. Benchmark Tests are a series of three tests taken during a course period in core subject areas.

Spears, a second-year teacher, said the HSAs make her nervous because she knows the results are scrutinized by the School Board. She said last year's test has helped her to improve some teaching strategies.

Spears, like most teachers in the county, has access to ABACUS, a school-system-wide computer system that stores and tracks students' test scores, showing areas in which each student excels and needs improvement, Harrell said.

The tests were administered for the first time this past spring.

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