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Middle schools to drop traditional reading classes

A new schedule is coming for county middle schools, and it will not include traditional reading classes.

The Howard County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed change Thursday, Jan. 26, and according to board Vice Chairman Frank Aquino, "This is going to pass at some time or another, whether it's next week or next year."

Under the new schedule, all Howard County middle schools would have a 50-minute, seven-period schedule, as opposed to current variations on a 45-minute, eight-period day.

Traditional reading classes would be eliminated, as literacy instruction would be infused into other classes.

The changes have been roundly denounced by county teachers, who packed a public hearing last week to voice their opposition.

The changes are being considered in the wake of a new state curriculum that emphasizes infusing literacy instruction into all content areas, said Clarissa Evans, executive director of school improvement and curricular program. School officials say stand-alone reading class is inconsistent with the new curriculum, which goes into effect for the 2012-13 academic year.

On Thursday, Jan. 19, a four-hour long work session with the board and central office staff members resulted in several scheduling options being presented for consideration next week, all based around freeing involved teachers from administrative duties or meetings during the implementation period.

One possibility, said William Ryan, executive director of school improvement and administration, is to have an every-other-day planning period for those teachers, who already have one planning period devoted to administrative duties like lunch supervision or collaborative planning meetings.

Another option allowing the teachers a program planning period every day is on the table, but that would require an additional teacher at each of the middle schools, said Linda Wise, chief academic officer, and would cost $1.3 million.

"It's staggering to me," she said. "We don't believe that's necessary."

Under the proposed changes, all students would have an English Language Arts class and below-grade readers would also have a reading-specificclass during the school day. At- or above-level readers could take an "advanced inquiry and innovation" course, like economic literacy.


The system would not eliminate explicit reading instruction for students who need it, Evans said, and reading instruction in other classes would not just be "tacked on at the end of the class." Rather, middle schools will undergo a massive change in curriculum, and "content-area" teachers — like those who teach science, social studies or math — would have lessons several times a week that focus on critical reading and response skills.

"We're restructuring to an extent that I think is greater than people understand in all classes to emphasize literacy skills," she said.

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