With Anne Arundel County's middle school pupils lagging behind in reading, school district officials hope to put a new focus on the mechanics of reading in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
On Wednesday, they will ask the county's school board to consider a restructuring of the middle school day to provide a long block of time devoted to reading, more reading teachers, more group planning time for faculty and the option of keeping those pupils who haven't mastered English from moving on to study Spanish or French.
The ideas came from a team of middle school principals and school district administrators who have spent much of the last year in class - in other Maryland school systems, watching how similar, but successful, middle schools are making the grade.
What they learned: Reading is taught as a separate subject in these higher performing schools. After elementary school in Anne Arundel County, reading is incorporated into the curriculum.
"I don't really think the problem was recognized until we started doing the accountability process," said Peter Nicolini, director of instruction for the Severna Park and Fort Meade areas and a 35-year veteran of county schools. "We tried a number of different initiatives in the past by reading and writing across the curriculum. Obviously, it has not done what it was supposed to have done."
In grades three through five, county pupils have 123 minutes for language arts a day, with 60 minutes of that time devoted to reading instruction. Most of the pupils at the county's 18 middle schools have 50 to 55 minutes a day for language arts and no specific reading instruction, according to the Middle School Report released yesterday.
Finding time for the language arts block could be done by making other periods shorter, for example trimming them from 55 to 50 minutes, Nicolini said.
Another way, he said, would be to change the structured elective schedules, allowing each school to determine how to best use those valuable minutes. Changing electives from yearlong or semesterlong courses to quarterly courses could allow more time for such subjects as study skills and organizational skills for those who need help. Another thing the successful schools do is keep eighth-graders who aren't reading at grade level from moving on to a foreign language, and instead have them take another year of reading.