An ambitious plan to improve reading among Carroll County students would introduce more frequent assessments of their skills, foster consistent practices and smoother transitions from one level to another and require about 30 additional positions for specialists and other support staff.
A draft of the two-year improvement plan, which school officials estimate will cost nearly $1.5 million, has been submitted to the board of education.
That draft, which marks another step in a process that began in 2005 with an external audit of the district's reading program, was discussed at Wednesday's board meeting.
With more than 75 percent of eighth-graders, more than 85 percent of fifth-graders and about 80 percent of third-graders rated as proficient or advanced on the 2006 Maryland School Assessment for reading, Carroll students consistently score better than state performance levels.
But county school officials said they would like to raise the bar for students who do not reach those levels.
"No excuses, no exceptions ... that's what this report is about," said Lorraine Fulton, the system's assistant superintendent of instruction, in a presentation to the board.
The draft notes areas of disconnect as students advance within the school system: from pre-K to kindergarten and elementary to middle school, assessments are not coordinated, nor are transitions from one level to another as smooth as they could be.
Another challenge lies in ensuring that what is taught in the classroom aligns with the written curriculum, said Margaret Pfaff, director of curriculum, instruction and staff development.
Intervention programs also should be regularly monitored after they're put in motion, Pfaff said.
"Our curriculum is strong - we know that - but is that what is taught every day?" Pfaff said.
The improvement plan highlighted three main goals: ensuring that reading assessments are available and used to make proper decisions for instruction; that all students can access the right reading support at every level, and that curricula from pre-K through 12th grade are in agreement with the school system's reading policy, and the state's voluntary curriculum.
Among more specific strategies, the plan calls for an additional reading specialist at each middle school, to ease the transition from fifth to sixth grade.
It also includes professional development at almost every step to help teachers incorporate reading strategies - and to show teachers and administrators how to use data for their decisions on instruction.
Kindergarten students should be assessed for their skills with sounds and letters at least three times a year, stated the report, which also called for a "minimum time allotment for reading instruction" for middle-school students.
Once fully implemented, the reading improvement plan should give students the confidence and ability to read at or above their grade level, while also giving teachers the skills and resources to meet their students' needs, Pfaff said.
Board members praised the team of administrators, teachers and reading specialists who put the plan together.
"It really appears to be comprehensive, well thought-out," board member Thomas Hiltz said. "I support it. I think, with commitment, we'll be successful. But it is ambitious."
Hiltz also underscored the importance of having a "living element" in the plan that allows for feedback.
Board member Barbara Shreeve said the plan offered an exciting window into the future.
But she added that follow-up was "critical" to ensure teachers and others understand its purpose and goals.
A public forum on the improvement plan is scheduled for Thursday at the Carroll County public schools building.
A final presentation is planned for Feb. 14, when the board is expected to vote on it.
"This is a two-year plan, but by no means are we finished by 2009," Pfaff said. "This is just a start."