Gains lauded at Freedom Elementary State officials note consistent increases in MSPAP test scores

'I think it's unique'

Innovative teachers use projects that combine subjects

December 14, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Freedom District Elementary School is one of 15 high-performing schools that state officials say showed the most consistent gains in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program scores released last week.

But as successful as their students are on the tests, teachers at the school don't overemphasize MSPAP, said Patricia Reed, fifth-grade teacher and past chairwoman of the School Improvement Team there.

"We don't really look at MSPAP any more than anything else," Reed said. "It's a guide."

Teachers look at how to make clear what students should learn, and then at being sure students are learning it, she said. This is done all year and in all grade levels, not just in May when MSPAP tests are given in third and fifth grades, she said.

Reed said teachers have found ways to meet across grade levels, and within grade levels, to hone the way they teach. They strive for a firm foundation of basic skills and try to take students a notch higher in applying those skills to projects that combine subject areas, Reed said.

The progress the school has made each year on the tests can be attributed to a cohesive school/parent/business community, said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education in Carroll County and a former principal at the school.

Principal Larry Thompson was not available for comment. But last week he was lauded by state officials, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening, for his school's consistently improved scores on the test, whereas some schools have fluctuated from year to year.

"I think it's unique not only in Carroll County, but in the state of Maryland that it has made such consistent gains. Each year. Every year," Mangle said.

She said that when she asks Thompson and his staff how they did it, "They always lift up for me just the culture of that school. They take tremendous pride in the way they work together. The connection between the community and the school is very strong."

Business assist

For example, at least two local businesses are active with the school. Londontowne Corp., almost directly across Route 32, has a long-standing practice of providing employees who mentor students at Freedom. The nearby Roy Rogers restaurant provides a Breakfast of Champions once a year for hundreds of students and their parents to reward academic achievement.

And just about the only turnover on the school staff is when one of the star teachers moves into the extended enrichment program for gifted students, Mangle said. The core staff remains stable.

Mangle said that while all elementary schools integrate subjects, Freedom has been among the most successful and innovative.

For example, a unit in fourth-grade social studies on New England meant that students also read literature about New England in their language arts class. For math and science, they built lighthouses that integrated geometry and electricity.

"They used the geometric shapes to construct the lighthouses, and they had to build an electrical circuit to make the lighthouse work," Mangle said.

Instead of teaching all those things separately, they connected them and had the children apply it, Mangle said.

The Freedom staff has pioneered two other strategies that other schools in Carroll are considering.

Both kindergarten sessions

One is to have kindergarten students who need more help stay for both morning and afternoon sessions. Carroll has no full-day kindergarten programs, but Freedom found a way to give that full-day experience to some students. A few other schools are trying it.

Another strategy Freedom pioneered is "parallel block scheduling," essentially a way to schedule children that allows smaller language arts groups.

The trade-off is that math, science and social studies classes have to be slightly larger. Children within a grade are regrouped for language arts depending on their reading ability. While some are in language, others are in the larger classes for math, science and social studies.

The school also schedules the reading resource teacher to work with slower children at the same time as those children's language class.

In most other schools, the child is removed for extra reading during another class period. Mangle said this type of scheduling lets the reading resource teacher help classroom teachers provide more individual attention.

Freedom to find solutions

Reed, the fifth-grade teacher, said her principal and assistant principal should get credit for giving teachers the freedom to take risks and be innovative.

The staff, in turn, finds ways around obstacles. Teachers often have trouble finding time to meet without students.

So that all teachers for one grade can meet more often, for example, the administration obtained a grant to use a storyteller for 30 minutes one day a month for each grade level.

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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