County schools to begin screening program to help identify reading problems

New system targets middle school pupils who need extra help

March 10, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools are adopting a new screening system to determine which of its seventh- and eighth-grade pupils need additional reading instruction.

Under the new system, outlined at a school board meeting last night, all 26 middle schools in the county will use the same standards to assess pupils' reading levels.

School officials are evaluating the reading skills of the current sixth-graders, who will be the first class affected.

All Baltimore County pupils receive reading instruction through sixth grade. Students who do not need additional help after that usually begin taking Spanish, French or another foreign language class in seventh grade.

Until now, each school has employed its own process for deciding who needs a seventh-grade reading class, said Paula Simon, the school system's coordinator of English and reading for secondary programs. While she did not have specific figures, Simon said some schools have much higher rates of seventh-grade reading placement.

The change is one of several Superintendent Joe A. Hairston has made in recent years to give the district's 108,000 students comparable instruction throughout the county.

Under the new screening system, pupils will be placed in seventh-grade reading if they did not pass the reading section of the Maryland School Assessment test as fifth-graders and scored below grade level on a second reading test given in January of their sixth-grade year.

The MSA is the state's annual standardized test. Students receive scores of "basic," "proficient" and "advanced." A "basic" score is considered failing. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must eventually bring all students up to the "proficient" range or better.

Students who passed one test but not the other will be evaluated by the school's reading specialist or reading teacher. Reading specialists and teachers are being trained to evaluate students' comprehension, vocabulary and other reading skills, Simon said.

The new policy outlines similar criteria to determine whether seventh-graders need to continue with a reading class in eighth grade, and whether eighth-graders need to attend summer school or receive extra reading help in high school.

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