Gauging progress

Educators and families assess changes

Educators and families assess changes

January 15, 2006|By KAREN HANNA


His eyes and attention wandering, the fifth-grader was quick with a reply to a teacher's reminder to show respect for other students. "I'm sorry," he said.

During several hours in teacher Tiffany Tresler's classroom Monday, the boy and his classmates appeared to devote most of their energies to learning. At Bester Elementary School, where staff members say they are committed to improvement, the focus on academics is paying off, administrators, Tresler and other staff members said.

Students talked with partners about Nikki Grimes' poem, "The Watcher," before sharing their thoughts aloud during a language-arts session on the rug in Tresler's room. Words such as "whole" and "hole," "orientation," "thermometer," "solar collector" and "although" cover a chart on a piece of oversized notebook paper hanging from a wall painted a vibrant shade of violet blue this summer.

Following Tresler's lead, students clapped quietly to show at the end of the lesson that they had made progress toward their objective - "We will explain the meaning of a poem," declared one sentence on the tear sheet of an easel. With one word, the students shouted the purpose behind the exercise.


"To show that reading is ..." Tresler said.

"Thinking!" the students replied.

When the school system followed through on plans to replace teachers at Bester, Denise Appel, a mother of students at the school, said she was a little nervous.

But since her twin fifth-grade boys - one is a student in Tresler's class - began school, Appel said she has noticed positive changes.

"Oh, I see a big difference," Appel said. "I think the initial response whenever school started was enthusiasm from teachers, and that translated (down) to the students."

Appel, whose oldest son is in college, said she always has had good experiences with her sons' teachers, but she realizes with the needs that students bring with them to school, Bester can be a draining place to work.

"I think day after day after day, with dealing with those needs, I think it exhausts you," Appel said while she waited for her sons' dismissal from class Friday.

Playing catch-up

At a building that once sported prison-gray walls, teachers and volunteers have poured fresh color almost everywhere. As part of an art club project, green letters spelling out Bester Bears - the school's mascot - now divide the spaces between windows in a hallway separating the older section of the building from the new half.

Student work hangs almost everywhere.

In the fourth-grade hallway, a billboard exhibits students' goals for the new year. Children's assignments reveal the students hope to improve in reading and math.

"My goal for 2006 is to become excellent at cursive hand writing," wrote one boy in longhand, erasure smudge marks covering his page.

"My goal for 2006 is to become a better reader. How I am going to do this is practice at home solidly. That is how I am going to get better," a girl wrote.

According to figures provided by Principal Kathy Stiles, 70 students in grades 1 through 5 were reading a full year or more below grade level in October. At that time, a total of 117 students with reading skills at least one marking period behind were in interventions.

Stiles said Monday that the school now offers interventions to all children in grades kindergarten through 5 who demonstrate gaps in proficiency. That means more students now participate in interventions, although Stiles said fewer were as far behind as they were earlier in the year.

In all, 97 children in grades kindergarten through 5 need extra help for math, and 190 children are getting extra help for reading, according to Stiles' figures.

"Hopefully, we'll get all of them caught up," Stiles said. "In reality, some of them, it depends on how far behind they were when they came in here."

Students in grades 3 through 8 will take the Maryland State Assessments in two months. The math assessment is March 14 and 15, and the reading assessment is March 21 and 22, Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

Since identifying about a half-dozen students at the beginning of the year who needed extra help with reading, Tresler said, her class of 17 students is showing improvement. On Monday, as she began retesting students, Tresler said only a handful of her students remain behind in reading. Three students regularly participate in reading interventions, and two students get extra help occasionally, Tresler said.

Three students, including two special-education students, need extra help with math, Tresler said. The students' individual-education plans call for the interventions, Tresler said.

For all of the students, a lack of self-confidence - not intelligence - is a big obstacle, Tresler said.

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