Plan to aid worst five

Help promised for low-scoring elementary schools

Response to MSPAP

Officials raise concerns about Talbott Springs

February 06, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials are working on a new plan to improve the performance of the five lowest-scoring elementary schools on state standardized tests, according to school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke.

He declined to reveal details of the plan, which he said should be ready in about a month, after a meeting yesterday between the school board and the County Council.

The five elementary schools - all of which scored below 40 on the state tests - are Talbott Springs, Dasher Green, Laurel Woods, Guilford and Swansfield. The county average score was 61.2 and the state's goal is for all schools to score 70.

"We are very, very concerned about that. We're going to be responding," O'Rourke said.

All five schools already get special attention and resources from the county and through federal grants under the Title I program.

The overall Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) scores were not discussed at the meeting yesterday, but Talbott Springs, the county's lowest-scoring elementary, located in Oakland Mills in east Columbia, did come up.

Unofficial state figures on how the county's eight federal Title I schools did - according to a state formula (School Performance Index) for measuring them against MSPAP results - showed Talbott Springs with the biggest decline, followed by Swansfield, Guilford, and Dasher Green elementaries.

"What are you doing at Talbott Springs?" asked Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican.

Kimberly Statham, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, replied that "we're developing a comprehensive plan to deal with that," but did not explain further.

School board members said they have not been informed of the effort, but board member Sandra H. French said the board has asked O'Rourke to schedule a special, informal discussion on MSPAP scores.

Board member Patricia Gordon said Talbott Springs has more children who are transient, spending only part of a year there, partly because of the large number of apartments nearby.

In addition, some parents have avoided Talbott Springs by enrolling their children instead in nearby Stevens Forest Elementary, which has MSPAP scores 20 points higher than the 33.8 Talbott Springs scored.

"Innovative programs must be considered," Gordon said.

Stability needed

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who represents Oakland Mills, raised another old issue - the assignment of newer, less experienced teachers to the poorest-performing schools.

"We're looking at ways to provide stability in those schools," Statham said.

In a report called "No Child Left Behind," issued in March 2000, a citizens committee noted that poorly performing schools have rates of staff turnover and numbers of new teachers 15 percent higher than schools with better test results.

The report recommended providing incentives to attract and keep talented, experienced teachers.

But Gray noted after the meeting that many of the same problems persist, including the achievement gap between white and black pupils.

"Black students haven't shown any appreciable increases," in performance, he said, despite all the money spent on programs to help.

O'Rourke stressed that the county is working with individual pupils starting at age 4 in pre-kindergarten programs, and wants to build on that individual approach, so that children who move from one school to another will encounter consistent instruction.

Robert O. Glascock, director of curricular programs, said that 71 percent of the 140 4-year-olds in Title I schools who received early help to prepare for school made good progress.

Among all-day kindergartners in these schools, 81 percent finished the year at or above grade level.

"We're getting very, very strong results," he said, though Gray and several others wondered what is happening with the pupils who are not progressing fast enough.

"What we are trying to do is concentrate intensive resources on a target number of schools," O'Rourke said.

The low-income factor

But the School Performance Index chart the council saw yesterday contains some difficult mysteries - such as why Dasher Green Elementary in Owen Brown did nearly as badly as Talbott Springs on MSPAP, but has only 26 percent of its pupils from low-income families, compared with 44 percent at Talbott Springs.

Adding to the puzzle, Running Brook Elementary, with 53 percent of pupils from low-income homes, improved significantly, both on the MSPAP scores and on the School Performance Index. Running Brook, in Wilde Lake, scored a bit higher than Stevens Forest.

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