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Officials keep eye on Eastern test scores

June 24, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Eastern Elementary School could be required to take expensive steps when classes resume in the fall unless student test scores to be released in August show improvement, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Monday.

She said those steps could be avoided by convincing the state that the school system is working to improve performance at Eastern and that test scores are on their way up.

"We asked (the state) to consider us as a school improving rather than a school in 'improvement,'" Morgan said.

Eastern Elementary can avoid being considered in need of improvement for a third year if the August release of Maryland School Assessments scores shows its students have shown "substantial and sustained" improvement, Morgan said.

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This past school year, the state required that the school system give Eastern students the option of attending a higher performing school; three of the four students who took the school system up on the offer were taken by school bus, which cost the school system $12,000, or $4,000 per child, said Chris Carter, the school system's director of transportation.

"If you begin to multiply that, we're talking about considerable amounts of money." Morgan said.

She said it would cost the school system $1,100 per student to send them to be tutored by a state-approved learning service.

Patricia Abernethy, deputy superintendent of instruction for the school system, said school officials have applied to the state for reconsideration of Eastern's "improvement" status. She said the school statistically has improved, showing some progress, albeit not enough for the state to pull it out of "improvement."

Abernethy said the school system's actions to restructure Eastern, by re-posting all positions at the school with longer days for its teachers, before the state required it to do so has factored into its appeal for reconsideration.

The Maryland State Department of Education deems elementary schools in need of "improvement" based on standardized test scores and attendance rates. It requires schools in their third year with that designation to provide students with the option to be transported to higher performing schools or to be tutored by any of the 12 state-approved tutoring services, such as Sylvan Learning Center, Morgan said.

"We've pled our case and the fact that we're making changes," Morgan said.

Abernethy said that the school system has sought approval from the state to provide its own tutoring services to county students.

"Rather than spend money on outside sources, we want to hire our own tutors to provide services, which makes a lot more sense," Morgan said.

On top of the school system's applications to the state, Eastern Elementary School will complete its first year of Achievement First, a MSDE standardized reading and writing program, a research based teaching strategy of which the state approves.

The new elementary school reading series recently purchased by the Washington County Board of Education also is research-based, Abernethy said.

Morgan said teachers at Eastern next year will be required to teach literacy for 180 minutes a day and math for 60 minutes a day. She said teachers in other subjects such as physical education and art also will be expected to incorporate reading into their lessons.

"Every teacher in that school is a reading teacher," she said.

Morgan said teachers will be required to identify teaching strategies that work with their students and share them with their staff. Student achievement will be tracked carefully, she said.

"We need to give kids what they need, not what we want to give them because it's what we've always done," Morgan said.

If a public school fails to meet state standards for five years, it may be considered for a state takeover, State Education spokesman Bill Reinhard has said.

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