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Dip in writing scores blamed on winter


Winter's snow and ice storms are being blamed for a decline in scores on writing tests taken by Howard County students.

The scores -- made public at last night's school board meeting in Ellicott City -- show a decline of three percentage points on the writing section of the Maryland functional tests.

Icy weather caused educators to cut the number of days the test was offered from seven to four. And because students missed school because of the bad weather, some were unable to finish the two-day writing test and received failing grades.

As a result, officials said, the percentage of all county students passing the writing exam fell from about 96 percent during the 1992-1993 school year to about 93 percent last school year.

For the first time, seventh-graders took a battery of tests which students are required to pass to graduate from high school. The tests measure basic knowledge of reading, writing, mathematics and citizenship.

"I think this went very well," assessment specialist Leslie Walker-Bartnick said of the test results. "This was a difficult year for the middle schools, but they did get through it."

About 76 percent of seventh-graders passed the writing exam, well below the "satisfactory" standard of 90 percent, Ms. Walker-Bartnick said, because of undeveloped writing skills. As students get older, writing improves, she said.

About 85 percent of eighth-graders and 93 percent of the ninth-graders passed the test.

Some students also performed poorly on the math portion. Of seventh-graders, about 77 percent passed the test -- about three percentage points below the "satisfactory" level. About 86 percent of eighth-graders and about 90 percent of ninth-graders passed.

Students did better on the reading test, with more than 97 percent of the county's seventh-graders passing. Nearly 99 percent of the eighth- and ninth-graders passed.

Students also performed well on the citizenship test, which is administered in the 10th grade. More than 95 percent of county students passed the test, which measures knowledge of constitutional government, principles, rights and responsibilities, politics and political behavior.

"I'm pleased," said school board Chairman Dana F. Hanna, who remarked that ninth-graders surpassed the scores of their peers of a decade ago in math and reading.

The results demonstrate "we're doing a better job than we did 10 years ago," Mr. Hanna said. "We're more focused" on subjects students need to learn in order to survive in the world.

The school board also held a public hearing for the fiscal 1996 capital budget and approved some aspects of Mount View Middle School's plans for site-based management.

The board approved a plan that would allow Mount View Middle School to set up a committee of teachers, administrators and parents to make decisions involving budgets, schedules, plans and curriculum.

In other matters, parents asked the school board to approve school construction and renovation projects for next fiscal year.

Ruth Cargo of the Stevens Forest Elementary PTA asked the board to implement new allocation formulas to distribute funds more equally among county schools.

Connie Adamson of the Oakland Mills High School Parents, Teachers and Students Association sought an expansion of the school's gym, and new locker rooms, doors and training rooms to store sports equipment.

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