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Schools make adjustments for county's mobile students

November 04, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

So many elementary students move from one Washington County school to another that officials decided to purchase the same reading books for all elementary schools in an effort to keep youngsters from falling behind because of such moves.

During the last school year, for instance, there were 341 incidents of students moving from one school to another at the elementary level within Washington County Public Schools.

The Houghton Mifflin reading series, which was purchased over the summer for $1.2 million, is part of the school system's plan to get consistent curricula within its elementary schools in light of the high number of students who move from school to school within the system in a given year, said JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, the school system's executive director of elementary education.

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Washington County elementary schools have had a consistent math program for five years, and the proof of that program's success is in students' standardized math test scores, which historically have been higher than students' reading test scores, she said.

In the past, students in one school may have been reading different books than students in another school, making catch-up for new students more difficult, she said. With the new reading program, Palkovitz-Brown said, students across the county are working with the same word lists and stories.

A consistent program will make transition smoother for students and teachers alike once school officials adjust the new book series to their schools, she said.

The school system sees a number of its highly mobile students in city schools such as Bester Academy, which has the highest student mobility rates. Last year, 48 students moved into Bester and 36 students left to attend other county schools.

The Maryland State Department of Education does not calculate the rate of student mobility in the same way it calculates state standardized test scores, said Robert Brown, the school system's coordinator of testing and accountability.

He said the reason for the difference in calculations is because the state has been collecting data on mobility rates for more than 10 years, but has only recently begun calculating some other data as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between all schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

All students must be proficient by 2014.

He said students who change schools between September and June are figured into the state's mobility rate, or the rate at which students move from school to school. The rate does not include students who are naturally promoted to another school level, such as from middle to high school.

Students must be enrolled in a school from October to March for the state to factor their scores into that particular school's progress report, which contains test scores and attendance and graduation rates that would determine whether a school needs to improve its performance in a given area.

Students who move during that six-month period are not factored into one particular school's score, but are factored instead into the county's overall score if they move within county schools, Brown said.

But when the test scores are broken down to provide the information the state uses to compare itself against the federal act's mandates and to obtain the data the state uses to compare its counties to one another, the scores of a student who is enrolled in a school at the time the test is given are considered a part of that school.

Brown said the school system didn't break down mobility for students in middle and high schools last year because the curriculum in those schools is consistent enough that students need not fall behind when they transfer from one school to another.

Boyd Michael III, the school system's executive director of secondary education, said high schools often offer similar classes, but when students transfer from a larger school, which may have more course offerings, to a smaller school, which may have fewer courses to offer, conflicts arise in student scheduling.

Patricia Abernethy, the school system's deputy superintendent for instruction, said regardless of how the state calculates data on mobility, school system officials are concerned when they see students hopping from school to school because the effects hurt not only their test scores, but also their overall school experience.

She said school officials hope to minimize trauma in students' school life, and that is more important than getting high scores on the Maryland School Assessment.

"I don't want to lose a child on a daily, a weekly or a monthly basis," she said.

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