Argument for reading time

Middle schools: Graduating student board member shows why more instruction is needed.

May 08, 2001

IT'S NOT TRUE that everything you needed to know you learned in kindergarten.

But too many Maryland students haven't learned everything they should have by age 9 -- or by sixth grade, or even before graduating high school.

Alicia Pettit is well aware of that. She attends Severna Park High School. Although her school is considered one of Anne Arundel County's best, she sees plenty of room for improvement.

The shortcomings she has witnessed firsthand prompted Ms. Pettit, a senior and the county school board's student member, to back a plan that doubles reading instruction for sixth-graders.

"I have 16 days left in English class," Ms. Pettit said at a recent board meeting. "We're still learning where to put commas in sentences. ... We should have known this back in sixth grade. We should have been learning this then."

In an interview, she noted that her generation is taught to write with computer-assisted spelling and grammar checks, sometimes without grasping all the basics.

She points to a statewide problem. Eighth-grade reading scores have remained flat across Maryland since the Maryland Schools Performance Assessment Program was launched 10 years ago.

The situation is worse in Anne Arundel. County fifth-graders score ahead of their Maryland peers, but eighth-graders are well behind the state average.

That's why Arundel's school board overwhelmingly affirmed its intention to give middle-school students more reading instruction, over the skepticism that County Executive Janet S. Owens voiced.

Ms. Owens says the reading plan moves too fast into "uncharted waters." But school board members -- especially Ms. Pettit -- are closer to instructional problems. They have devised a reasonable solution that needs a fair chance.

Administrators and school boards deserve support when offering middle-school initiatives that could produce more-literate graduates, who know where commas go.

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