Online chat with School Board officials

September 24, 2006

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, The Herald-Mail hosted a live online chat with Washington County Board of Education officials JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown and Donna Hanlin on the subject of how the federal No Child Left Behind Act has affected the local school system.

Our next chat will be Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 1 p.m. with Vicki Sadehvandi, director of CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused), and Carol Bannon, director of the Washington County Family Violence Council. Their topic will be activities planned for October, which is Family Violence Awareness Month.

Tom: So far, two elementary schools have been restructured with rehired teachers earning an extra $5,000 for 90 hours work. What are the criteria for deciding what and when a school needs restructuring?

Donna and JoEtta: The schools that have thus far been restructured in Washington County were restructured as a proactive measure after examining trends in state student achievement data. Based upon the negotiated agreement between the Washington County Teachers Association and the Board of Education, a joint committee is appointed by the superintendent to review the recommendations for restructuring a school or schools. This appointed team reviews information including achievement data to decide what schools should be restructured and when.


Parent in WC: Why are so few students in Washington County taking the SAT tests compared to the other counties in Maryland, and why are the scores for Washington County below the state average when they should be much higher? Haven't the college-bound students in Washington County been left behind?

Donna and JoEtta: While the SAT is not directly related to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, this is an important initiative in the Washington County Master Plan. We are not only interested in preparing our students to graduate from high school, but also to prepare students for the future. Therefore, we do strive to provide students with as many options and opportunities as possible, one of which is taking the SAT in preparation for college entrance.

We have many initiatives in place to encourage students to take the SAT, one of which is free access to the College Board's online SAT prep course.

For more information, please read the Herald-Mail editorial page on Sept. 21. (Editor's note: That information is available on The Herald-Mail Web site. Go to "opinion," then to the letters for Sept. 21.)

Moderator: How has the No Child Left Behind Act changed the way the school system operates?

Donna and JoEtta: No Child Left Behind is a federal law that was adopted in 2001. The law emphasizes high expectations for all students, focusing specifically on achievement in reading and mathematics. The law requires states to establish standards and specific goals for student achievement, based upon the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum (VSC). Each school system must achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) on state goals. Students are assessed in grades 3 through 8 and 10 in both reading and mathematics. Scores must be reported as advanced, proficient or basic.

The school system developed a 5-year comprehensive strategic plan called the Washington County Master Plan, which outlines three goals - peak performance, continuous process improvement and customer and stakeholder involvement and satisfaction. Our county budget is developed based upon the priorities as determined by the goals of the Master Plan. We have developed county assessments in reading and mathematics to measure progress on the VSC standards.

We focus on achievement data using a data management system teachers can access (for) up-to-date information for individual student progress in reading and mathematics. We have aligned all of our curriculum and instructional materials with the Maryland VSC.

Tom: People within and without the educational establishment now use the phrase "teaching to the test." Since all tests are a reflection of both the curriculum and the level of understanding for the student, when does a teacher not "teach to the test"?

Donna and JoEtta: As discussed in the last response, WCPS follows the VSC in the core subject areas. The VSC reflects what students at each grade level should know and be able to do. The Maryland State Assessments in reading and mathematics measure students' progress towards meeting the state standards. Therefore, it is essential that teachers constantly monitor students' progress through assessments that are aligned with the curriculum, in order to adjust instruction to meet the needs of each individual student.

Moderator: What can parents do to help the system comply with NCLB?

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