Two elementaries flagged as needing corrective action

Taneytown, Robert Moton decline in performance

Carroll County

May 01, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

After two consecutive years of decline in the state's school performance measures, two Carroll County elementary schools that receive federal Title I funding have been flagged and must develop extensive plans to reverse the trend toward failure.

Taneytown Elementary saw a 7.4-point drop over two years in its school performance index, to 50.7 in 2001. Outside Westminster, Robert Moton Elementary's index fell 23.1 points, to 51.3 in 2001.

The index rating is based on a complex formula that incorporates Maryland School Performance Assessment Program scores and student attendance.

Taneytown and Robert Moton - among Carroll's poorest - receive federal aid for schools with high concentrations of low-income children. Their designation as Title I schools in need of corrective action is different from being placed on the state's list of failing schools in danger of being taken over.

"It was a surprise that we had schools that had a couple of years of declines and it had not been something that ... we were aware of," said Harry Fogle, Carroll's director of elementary schools. "This has brought about a heightened awareness of what we are about and we are about educating students."

A third year of declining scores at either school would allow parents to transfer their children to a Carroll school that has not been flagged for lagging performance, said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman with the Maryland State Department of Education.

Parents at 113 struggling Title I schools in 15 school districts across Maryland were informed late last year that they can choose another public school for their children to attend this fall, he said.

If the schools have made no improvement after five years, Reinhard said, "more progressive action" can be taken, including a state takeover or turning the school over to a private contractor, such as Edison Schools Inc., which is used by Baltimore.

Being identified as needing improvement "is serious but also helpful," Reinhard said. "It's not unusual [to receive such a designation] - it happens, and unfortunately it happens too often - but a lot of schools are able to get turned around."

Working with struggling Title I schools, a state education department team helps county educators spot problems - a change in the student population or an influx of non-English-speaking students - that the school was not prepared to handle.

Carroll administrators have begun to tackle this examination, calling together instructional directors and school leaders to analyze everything from student achievement data to the school environment and its interaction with the community.

"We've looked at everything across the board that we can think of and left nothing untouched with no holds barred," Fogle said. He'll meet with Robert Moton's principal today and with Taneytown's next week.

Ideas have emerged from initial brainstorming sessions.

Taneytown - where nearly 34 percent of the school's 550 pupils are from low-income families, while 27 percent get free or reduced-price lunches - is looking at using teaching coaches to work with classroom instructors on a regular basis. Teachers now get a day or two of staff development training.

Robert Moton, which has the greatest concentration of special education students - 34 percent - of the county's 36 elementary, middle or high schools, is considering calling in extra staff to free time for administrators who are forced to abandon classroom duties to handle special education tasks. In addition to its large special education population, about 28 percent of Robert Moton's 469 pupils are considered low-income children and about 27 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Both schools are contemplating reading-intervention programs for first- and second-graders.

"For once, it feels like we are really building a comprehensive approach to improvement," Fogle said. "The principals are right on board. This is not a punitive thing. It's positive. We have two schools that meet [the state's] criteria [for needing improvement], and we all realize we shouldn't let schools get to this point. Maybe, by looking at the data, we can get to other schools before we get to this point."

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