County begins tests of pupils' reading skills

New exams to identify children in need of tutors, special assignments

September 23, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

To bolster pupil's reading skills, the Baltimore County school system is, for the first time, testing the reading comprehension of first- through sixth-graders in exams being given this month.

The pupils will take the tests again in January and May so schools can continue measuring their skills and help identify those reading below grade level who may need extra help.

"We're just trying to make better determinations of where our kids are and what sort of interventions they may need," said Paula Simon, coordinator of secondary English and reading.

The new "Benchmark Progress" test results will be used to determine pupil needs in conjunction with scores from the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills - which is given statewide - and the opinions of teachers, said Alison Donlon, coordinator of elementary language arts.

Pupils scoring below grade level might be assigned to a different reading group, receive after-school tutoring or be assigned reading tailored to closing the gap.

"We've always had a system goal of kids reading on or above grade level," said Paul Mazza, director of assessment, research and testing. "But we didn't have good measures to see how kids are progressing."

The new tests are the latest installment in Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's effort to improve pupils' reading skills. A systemwide reading series and phonics curriculum was introduced during the last school year.

On the tests, which many elementary schools have already given and middle schools are administering now, pupils read narrative and expository passages then answer multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions.

Carla M. Zamerelli-Clifford, supervisor of assessment, research and testing, said the essay results are especially helpful in ensuring that pupils are performing to Maryland standards, which will be measured by a new state assessment test.

"Plus, it's a way to see how our curriculum is doing," Simon said.

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