Hickey urges more time for core academics New assessment tests also sought for middle schools

September 12, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Administrators should increase time for core academics in Howard County's middle schools -- including foreign languages and reading -- and revise the report card and develop new assessment tests for the students, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said last night.

The recommendations came during a school board meeting that included the board's third and final work session on a controversial evaluation of middle schools issued last year.

Hickey also recommended that:

Middle school teachers become experts in certain subjects rather than remaining generalists.

Policies be developed on how to group students of different ability levels within the same classroom.

New approaches, including the use of supervised in-school suspensions called contract rooms, be devised to deal with disruptive children in all middle schools.

On setting aside extra time for core academics, Hickey said: "It seems patently clear that taking time away from one subject area will lead to a decrease in time in other subject areas. Some of these changes are already taking place in some of our middle schools."

He backed those changes, saying, "I think it's important at this stage that we try some different things."

A public hearing on the evaluation is scheduled Sept. 25 at the school system headquarters in Ellicott City. Hickey plans to report Nov. 13 on what action he will take in response to the 180-page document. His report will include a two- to three-year time line and a preliminary budget for the plans, Hickey said.

The 18-month middle school evaluation, conducted by a 16-member citizens' committee and two university professors hired as consultants, has prompted a broad debate on the direction for teaching children in grades six through eight.

The evaluation also addressed the controversial issue of performance tests of middle school students.

In a survey by the Middle School Review Committee, most administrators and teachers said they felt the Comprehensive Test for Basic Skills (CTBS) and the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) are not good indicators of student performance.

But board members said that such school tests as can be good measures of student performance and effective tools for shaping curriculum in middle schools.

"I hear all this time that we shouldn't be teaching to the tests," said board member Karen B. Campbell. "But if the test is a valid test that addresses the curriculum, then what's wrong with teaching to it?"

The committee recommended developing a new, more rigorous achievement test for middle school students -- a recommendation the board seemed to agree with.

In other business, a report delivered to the board showed that school vandalism from July 1, 1996, through June 30, increased 33 percent over the same period from 1994 to 1995, and the cost of cleaning up and making repairs had risen by 69 percent.

In the same two-year period, however, graffiti -- listed in a separate category -- and theft dropped slightly in county schools, the report said.

"Thefts were my concern," said Sandra H. French, the school board chairwoman. "That has gone down in the last few years, but I know that will fluctuate. We need to keep up with strategic measures to deal with it."

An unusual series of vandalism incidents committed by two former Howard High students last winter accounted for some of the increase, said Ronald A. Miller, the Howard school system's safety and insurance specialist.

Howard High reported the most incidents of vandalism -- and the most expensive repairs -- of any school last year, according to the report.

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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