Despite the overwhelming sentiment against them, Anne Arundel County school board members stood their ground yesterday, voting to double the time sixth-graders spend in reading classes next year even though it means less time for art and music courses.
The board voted 7-1, with President Paul G. Rudolph opposed, to transform language arts into two periods a day with the hope that the action will reverse the trend of falling reading performance in middle school.
"Our students need this," said board member Tony Spencer. "I wish there was some other way."
Nearly all of the 20 parents, pupils and musicians who faced the board yesterday deeply disapproved of the proposal, which will mean two or three elective courses for sixth-graders instead of the five. They worry that the result will be the end of some thriving electives, many of them courses that give pupils the creative outlets they need.
Many were angered that all pupils - even those with superior reading scores - will have to spend precious moments during the too-short school day on what they fear will be remedial reading. They had hoped that if the board insisted on proceeding, they would at least move slowly, perhaps beginning with a pilot program at one school.
"Although I can read a book or write a story at home ... I can't have an orchestra in my living room," said Sage Snider, a fifth-grader at Jones Elementary School in Severna Park. "Let the students have a better education by leaving the electives alone."
As a response to test scores that have been falling between fifth and eighth grades, school system officials created this plan for next year's sixth-graders to devote 100 to 110 minutes each day to reading, writing, speaking and listening.
The program would then extend to seventh grade for the 2002-2003 school year.