A morning meal boosts scores in certain subjects

The Education Beat

Study: Maryland children who received free breakfasts performed better overall, but reading skills showed no improvement.

March 26, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

A GOOD BREAKFAST at his desk makes Johnny a better student -- but not necessarily a better reader.

A study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School shows that Maryland kids who received free breakfasts in their classrooms performed better on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP).

But of the scores examined in four subjects -- reading, math, science and social studies -- "reading showed nothing. It was flat," said Harvard researcher J. Michael Murphy.

Researchers studied a pilot classroom breakfast program at 10 schools in six Maryland school systems over two years. Schools that provided classroom breakfasts during the study showed a 22 percent improvement in MSPAP scores, compared with the 13 percent improvement shown by a control group. Scores in all Maryland schools improved 5 percent over the same two years.

Pupils in the schools that provided breakfast also had better attendance records and exhibited better behavior.

When the study began, said Murphy, "only about half of the students we surveyed ate breakfast every day at home or at school. After the classroom breakfast started, that figure climbed to more than 90 percent in the breakfast schools. It remained unchanged in the control schools."

Murphy said he couldn't speculate about why the tide that lifted math, science and social studies scores failed to lift reading scores. "Some earlier studies suggested math is a more quantitative skill and thus more responsive to something like a daily classroom breakfast," he said.

The program, called Maryland Meals for Achievement, has been expanded this year to 11 test schools and 11 control schools.

Friendsville parents aid in reading effort

Schools are reaching out ever more aggressively and imaginatively to involve parents in teaching reading to their children.

A delegation from Friendsville Elementary in Garrett County explained last week how they do it in the state's westernmost school.

They offer an after-school "parents as partners" program in the school; a "family reading plan" for the school's youngest kids and their parents; and a monthly "book in a bag" -- a book sent home with accompanying family activities built around reading, said Principal Douglas Gaither. "We just want the family to read together," said Gaither, "and they will, if you make it fun."

Friendsville is a low-income Title I school, but its MSPAP scores are much higher than those in most Maryland schools with similar demographics. Fifth-grade reading scores increased by nearly 22 points last year. Maybe it's the small-town atmosphere. "Our town has a good name," said Leah Huber, Gaither's friendly secretary, who made the trip with three teachers and the principal.

While the Friendsville delegation was talking to a "family involvement conference" at Martin's West, other parents and teachers were outside, touring Baltimore County's "Parentmobile," a mini-library and computer center in a converted school bus painted teal blue.

The Parentmobile tours the county, making about 10 stops a month at schools and events. "It's designed to engage parents, tell them what's available, and do a little public relations," said Baltimore County parent liaison Linda L. Ross.

In Houston schools, it's `reading by 6'

It will be reading by 6 in Houston, Texas.

Superintendent Rod Paige has announced a plan to teach kindergarten pupils how to read. Paige wants children in the nation's seventh-largest district reading at grade level by the first grade.

The district now attempts to ensure that children are reading at grade level by the third grade. "We've got to start them earlier," Paige said.

The new reading program will debut this fall.

Reading association honors young authors

Noting that reading and writing are forever linked, the Maryland council of the International Reading Association sponsors an annual "Young Authors of Maryland" contest. This year's winners were honored at the organization's annual meeting recently in Towson. They are:

Poetry: Grade 2, Erin Farr, Cresaptown Elementary School (Allegany County); Grade 3, Alyssa Busichio, Saints Peter and Paul School (Easton); Grade 4, Emily Sneff, Twin Ridge Elementary (Mount Airy); Grade 5, Callie Giles, Fountain Rock Elementary (Hagerstown); Grade 6, Lindsey Hayes, Springfield Middle (Williamsport); Grade 7, Hernan Igot, Sligo Middle (Silver Spring); and Grade 8, Renee Jennyson, Holy Angels-Sacred Heart (Avenue).

Short story: Grade 2, Zack Motter, William Paca Elementary (Landover); Grade 3, Amanda Engelberth, Rising Sun Elementary; Grade 4, Christopher Silberholz, Barnsley Elementary (Rockville); Grade 5, Emi Leiner, Barnsley Elementary; Grade 6, Ashley Tyler, Northern Middle (Hagerstown); Grade 7, Kevin Chesser, Esperanza Middle (Lexington Park); and Grade 8, Molly Rue, Salisbury School (Salisbury).

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