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Early instruction is bearing fruit Improvement: The county's reading-level test scores are up, educators say, proof that an intensified approach in early grades is working.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For Baltimore County educators, the proof of improved early reading instruction lies in the numbers.

More county first- and second-graders are reading at grade-level than ever before. The percentage of third- and fifth-graders scoring satisfactorily in reading on Maryland's annual tests has jumped over the past two years. And almost three-quarters of the county's 100 elementary schools showed improvement on the state reading tests given last spring.

"We believe that these results show that we're doing the right things in the early grades," says Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione. "It tells us that if you have a strong program in the basics and early intervention for children who are struggling, every child can learn to read."

Despite the large gains posted by the beginning readers, county educators acknowledge that more needs to be done for students in middle schools, where scores have slipped in recent years.

They're also concerned about early readers who struggle and are considering changes in the way elementary school days are structured, based on the success of such changes at a school in Towson.

The effort to introduce consistent early reading instruction in Baltimore County's schools dates back to 1996, soon after Marchione became superintendent.

From the outset, he said he wanted elementary schools to focus on having all children reading at grade level by the end of the second grade, and it has remained a top priority. By last spring, 86 percent of the county's second-graders had reached that goal on a nationally standardized test, the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills.

The gains began soon after county educators developed a new early reading curriculum called "word identification." The program calls for specific early instruction in phonics -- or letter-sound relationships -- to ensure that students are able to decode words, while teaching literature to build comprehension skills.

Word identification replaces the whole-language approach that had swept through county classrooms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, knocking out much of the skills instruction that research has shown is critical -- and replacing it with an early focus on stories and literature.

"We finally have a consistent program in place in every elementary school," says Roberta Bukovsky, the county's director of elementary schools. "Now we're seeing the results from all of that hard work."

Under Baltimore County's approach to reading, instruction begins in kindergarten, when 5-year-olds begin specific training in letters and sounds. More county elementary schools have added pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs in the last two years, giving children in many of the county's poorest areas more time in school.

All elementary schools are required to have reading specialists, which were lost in some schools in the early 1990s. About a third of the county elementaries have added one-on-one tutoring programs with federal poverty money and other grants.

"More and more children are now entering the upper grades of elementary schools with a better grasp of basic reading skills," says Beth Strauss, principal of Deer Park Elementary School. "By third grade, we have children reading such complex material that I would guess many of them could read the instructions on a

VCR and program it better than most adults."

Nevertheless, county educators worry that more needs to be done for students who are struggling -- and Bukovsky, the elementary school director, points to Pleasant Plains Elementary School in Towson as a model that might be worth duplicating across the county.

'Reading Rockateers'

At Pleasant Plains, almost a quarter of first- and second-graders are being targeted for extra time every day in reading and math instruction.

In the school's program, these students -- dubbed "Reading Rocketeers" -- learn with their classes in the morning during regular reading and math periods. In the afternoons, they work in small groups with a reading specialist and classroom teachers, while their peers study social studies and science.

"In many programs, you pull children out of regular instruction to give them extra tutoring," says Principal Jennifer Pahl. "We wanted to give them more time."

So four afternoons per week, the 16 first-grade "rocketeers" assemble for 45 minutes with teacher Dave Shauch and reading specialist Maureen Partilla. The group works together to sound out words, with Shauch and Partilla encouraging children to employ such techniques as using their fingers as a scissors to "clip off" quick consonants.

The Pleasant Plains staff works with Project Read, an outreach program of the private Jemicy School to help public schools adapt this and other Orton-Gillingham tutoring techniques. (Orton-Gillingham is a multisensory instructional method commonly used with dyslexic readers.)

The students then break into smaller groups, reading stories with controlled vocabularies of short words.

"Bob is in Tin Fox. Tom is in Gas Hog," reads 6-year-old Darnell Green.

While the first- and second-graders don't get as much science and social studies instruction as others in their classes, Pleasant Plains teachers say it's a worthwhile trade-off.

"We try to include some science and social studies in the reading and math we do in the afternoon with these students," Shauch says. "But we think that getting the children reading is more important, because by fourth grade, if you give them a textbook they can't read, they're not going to learn."

Bukovsky says it's too soon to tell whether what's happening at Pleasant Plains will be copied elsewhere in the county but praised the school's creativity.

"I think that the next step is to find ways to increase the time we spend teaching children to read," she says. "This may be one way to do it. It's something we need to talk about with the superintendent."

Addressing the decline

To combat declining reading test scores in eighth grade, reading teachers have been put into county middle schools and sixth-graders are required to take classes in reading and English, says Elaine Gorman, the county's director of secondary schools.

Middle school teachers are receiving training on reading instruction as part of such other subjects as science and social studies, Gorman says.

"The reading specialist and the media specialist have become a literacy team in every middle school," Gorman says. "They're working together with the other teachers in the school to make sure that all students continue developing the reading skills they need."

Tomorrow: Reading in Anne Arundel County schools.

Baltimore County elementary schools

This table shows the percentage of Baltimore County third-graders who scored at the satisfactory level on reading tests administered as part of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The last column shows the school's overall improvement since the tests were first administered in 1994.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1998 .. 1997 .. 1996 .. 1995 .. 1994 .. Chg.

Maryland .. .. .. .. .. .. 41.6 .. 36.8 .. 35.3 .. 34.0 .. 30.6 .. 11.0

Countywide .. .. .. .. ... 47.0 .. 39.2 .. 36.5 .. 37.6 .. 33.2 .. 13.8

Arbutus .. .. .. .. .. ... 46.8 .. 52.5 .. 31.0 .. 27.4 .. 33.3 .. 13.5

Baltimore Highlands .. ... 15.2 .. 20.9 .. 20.0 .. 21.1 .. 12.4 ... 2.8

Battle Grove .. .. .. .. . 40.0 .. 31.6 .. 18.8 .. 33.3 .. 34.9 ... 5.1

Bear Creek .. .. .. .. ... 29.3 .. 30.6 .. 19.0 .. 26.3 .. 29.2 ... 0.1

Bedford .. .. .. .. .. ... 52.9 .. 31.0 .. 29.3 .. 26.5 .. 26.0 .. 26.9

Berkshire .. .. .. .. .. . 30.3 .. 33.8 .. 25.0 .. 43.6 .. 26.8 ... 3.5

Carney .. .. .. .. .. .. . 58.9 .. 45.5 .. 47.9 .. 59.8 .. 32.3 .. 26.6

Carroll Manor .. .. .. ... 62.1 .. 48.4 .. 54.0 .. 60.0 .. 57.0 ... 5.1

Catonsville .. .. .. .. .. 54.5 .. 59.3 .. 45.2 .. 41.0 .. 40.0 .. 14.5

Cedarmere .. .. .. .. .. . 53.3 .. 40.4 .. 43.3 .. 35.7 .. 28.6 .. 24.7

Chadwick .. .. .. .. .. .. 34.0 .. 39.4 .. 30.3 .. 27.0 .. 26.2 ... 7.8

Chapel Hill .. .. .. .. .. 39.2 .. 44.3 .. 33.7 .. 46.5 .. 33.7 ... 5.5

Charlesmont .. .. .. .. .. 37.0 .. 38.7 .. 22.7 .. 16.9 .. 33.3 ... 3.7

Chase .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 25.9 .. 16.7 .. 23.8 .. 28.4 .. 26.5 .. -0.6

Chatsworth School .. .. .. 60.0 .. 70.2 .. 65.8 .. 45.8 .. . NA .. . NA

Chesapeake Terrace .. .. . 46.9 .. 23.5 .. 52.9 .. 40.8 .. 25.9 .. 21.0

Church Lane .. .. .. .. .. 27.4 .. 25.2 .. 23.8 .. 27.7 .. 44.2 . -16.8

Colgate .. .. .. .. .. ... 27.9 .. 26.7 .. 11.4 .. 15.8 ... 9.8 .. 18.1

Cromwell Valley .. .. .. . 67.6 .. 65.2 .. 54.1 .. 53.0 .. . NA .. . NA

Deep Creek .. .. .. .. ... 20.8 .. 17.5 .. 12.3 .. 20.0 .. 14.9 ... 5.9

Deer Park .. .. .. .. .. . 47.4 .. 34.3 .. 30.8 .. 30.9 .. 25.0 .. 22.4

Dundalk .. .. .. .. .. ... 28.7 .. 20.0 .. 19.1 .. 23.1 .. 21.0 ... 7.7

Edgemere .. .. .. .. .. .. 35.3 .. 30.2 .. 35.6 .. 32.1 .. 17.0 .. 18.3

Edmondson Heights .. .. .. 40.4 .. 31.6 .. 31.8 .. 29.5 .. 25.9 .. 14.5

Elmwood .. .. .. .. .. ... 30.9 .. 22.9 .. 28.9 .. 18.3 .. 32.6 .. -1.7

Essex .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 57.5 .. 36.6 .. 24.3 .. 38.3 .. 16.9 .. 40.6

Featherbed Lane .. .. .. . 15.0 .. 15.8 .. 15.2 ... 6.5 .. 16.7 .. -1.7

Fifth District .. .. .. .. 72.2 .. 63.6 .. 64.5 .. 72.6 .. 42.4 .. 29.8

Franklin .. .. .. .. .. .. 56.6 .. 57.1 .. 45.0 .. 51.1 .. 38.4 .. 18.2

Fort Garrison .. .. .. ... 75.0 .. 61.1 .. 68.1 .. 75.8 .. 67.1 ... 7.9

Fullerton .. .. .. .. .. . 86.4 .. 71.4 .. 72.2 .. 55.9 .. 31.6 .. 54.8

Glenmar .. .. .. .. .. ... 44.4 .. 41.7 .. 45.5 .. 24.6 .. 16.7 .. 27.7

Glyndon .. .. .. .. .. ... 62.9 .. 53.8 .. 55.1 .. 55.0 .. 41.3 .. 21.6

Grange .. .. .. .. .. .. . 47.4 .. 43.4 .. 34.6 .. 21.6 .. 23.0 .. 24.4

Gunpowder .. .. .. .. .. . 62.3 .. 60.0 .. 73.8 .. 46.9 .. 39.0 .. 23.3

Halethorpe .. .. .. .. ... 52.7 .. 24.1 .. 40.7 .. 47.2 .. 34.9 .. 17.8

Halstead Academy .. .. ... 14.8 .. 12.8 .. 15.9 ... 8.0 ... 5.5 ... 9.3

Hampton ... .. .. .. .. .. 67.2 .. 51.8 .. 50.7 .. 48.1 .. 38.2 .. 29.0

Harford Hills .. .. .. ... 48.3 .. 44.1 .. 33.3 .. 41.9 .. 31.2 .. 17.1

Hawthorne .. .. . .. .. .. 17.2 .. 25.0 .. 15.1 .. 27.1 .. 24.2 .. -7.0

Hebbville .. .. .. .. .. . 28.0 .. 18.5 .. 37.7 .. 22.8 .. 14.9 .. 13.1

Hernwood .. .. .. .. .. .. 49.2 .. 35.7 .. 26.5 .. 30.4 .. 24.4 .. 24.8

Hillcrest .. .. .. .. .. . 55.3 .. 48.5 .. 49.7 .. 46.4 .. 44.9 .. 10.4

Jacksonville .. .. .. .. . 68.6 .. 54.2 .. 65.2 .. 50.8 .. . NA .. . NA

Johnnycake .. .. .. .. ... 25.0 .. 22.1 .. 21.7 .. 15.7 .. 20.6 ... 4.4

Joppa View .. .. .. .. ... 66.3 .. 58.4 .. 56.1 .. 48.9 .. 44.8 .. 21.5

Kingsville .. .. .. .. ... 64.6 .. 46.2 .. 48.3 .. 52.2 .. 55.9 ... 8.7

Lansdowne .. .. .. .. .. . 35.6 .. 33.3 .. 25.0 .. 40.9 .. 23.5 .. 12.1

Logan .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 22.2 .. 12.4 .. 19.2 .. 21.3 .. 20.0 ... 2.2

Lutherville .. .. .. .. .. 65.9 .. 51.0 .. 49.4 .. 48.3 .. 59.0 ... 6.9

Mars Estates .. .. .. .. . 16.9 .. 11.9 .. 11.7 .. 20.3 .. 11.0 ... 5.9

Martin Blvd. .. .. .. .. . 35.3 .. 35.0 .. 16.7 .. 48.7 .. 20.4 .. 14.9

McCormick .. .. .. .. .. . 54.2 .. 37.9 .. 27.6 .. 25.0 .. 28.8 .. 25.4

Middleborough .. .. .. ... 47.5 .. 32.1 .. 28.4 .. 22.6 .. 43.4 ... 4.1

Middlesex .. .. .. .. .. . 35.5 .. 38.6 .. 30.0 .. 49.2 .. 15.3 .. 20.2

Milbrook .. .. .. .. .. .. 26.1 .. 23.3 .. 27.9 .. 47.3 .. 37.7 . -11.6

Norwood .. .. .. .. .. ... 38.0 .. 44.9 .. 24.2 .. 35.0 .. 26.8 .. 11.2

Oakleigh .. .. .. .. .. .. 53.3 .. 35.2 .. 31.8 .. 32.9 .. 42.9 .. 10.4

Oliver Beach .. .. .. .. . 46.7 .. 28.6 .. 29.3 .. 16.7 .. 22.9 .. 23.8

Orems .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 44.2 .. 30.2 .. 26.7 .. 36.8 .. 21.4 .. 22.8

Owings Mills .. .. .. .. . 37.1 .. 31.3 .. 26.8 .. 17.5 .. 26.1 .. 11.0

Padonia .. .. .. .. .. ... 69.6 .. 54.5 .. 51.4 .. 33.3 .. 45.9 .. 23.7

Perry Hall .. .. .. .. ... 54.0 .. 47.1 .. 33.3 .. 43.0 .. 38.3 .. 15.7

Pine Grove .. .. .. .. ... 67.0 .. 66.7 .. 64.1 .. 66.3 .. 46.4 .. 20.6

Pinewood .. .. .. .. .. .. 46.3 .. 54.9 .. 63.4 .. 59.6 .. 53.6 .. -7.3

Pleasant Plains .. .. .. . 46.0 .. 37.7 .. 40.9 .. 37.9 .. 37.2 .. .8.8

Pot Spring .. .. .. .. ... 75.6 .. 55.8 .. 50.0 .. 67.1 .. 57.6 .. 18.0

Powhatan .. .. .. .. .. .. 40.3 .. 26.8 .. 27.0 .. 31.6 .. 36.2 ... 4.1

Prettyboy .. .. .. .. .. . 54.7 .. 53.7 .. 45.2 .. 45.5 .. 35.2 .. 19.5

Randallstown .. .. .. . .. 30.2 .. 12.7 .. 21.8 .. 36.2 .. 35.1 .. -4.9

Red House Run .. .. .. ... 43.8 .. 28.8 .. 35.2 .. 29.7 .. 30.0 .. 13.8

Reisterstown .. .. .. .. . 67.0 .. 40.0 .. 41.0 .. 44.4 .. 59.3 ... 7.7

Relay .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 51.6 .. 53.8 .. 36.6 .. 41.5 .. 35.0 .. 16.6

Riderwood .. .. .. .. .. . 64.1 .. 72.8 .. 60.3 .. 66.3 .. 60.3 ... 3.8

Riverview .. .. .. .. .. . 52.7 .. 18.8 .. 24.1 .. 17.0 .. 11.4 .. 41.3

Rodgers Forge .. .. .. ... 77.1 .. 60.8 .. 56.4 .. 45.5 .. 53.9 .. 23.2

Sandalwood .. .. .. .. ... 23.4 .. 15.6 .. 14.5 ... 5.9 .. 15.5 ... 7.9

Sandy Plains .. .. .. .. . 46.9 .. 19.8 .. 14.5 .. 21.5 .. 12.2 .. 34.7

Scotts Branch .. .. .. ... 21.1 .. 17.9 .. 10.5 ... 6.3 .. 14.9 ... 6.2

Seneca .. .. .. .. .. .. . 46.8 .. 24.5 .. 39.0 .. 44.9 .. 10.5 .. 36.3

Seven Oaks .. .. .. .. ... 56.6 .. 62.8 .. 55.4 .. 58.9 .. 60.0 .. -3.4

Seventh District .. .. ... 45.6 .. 36.0 .. 52.8 .. 45.3 .. 34.0 .. 11.6

Shady Spring .. .. .. .. . 32.5 .. 19.8 .. 26.4 .. 23.1 .. 22.2 .. 10.3

Sparks .. .. .. .. .. .. . 91.7 .. 63.0 .. 64.2 .. 40.0 .. 49.3 .. 42.4

Stoneleigh .. .. .. .. ... 63.3 .. 60.6 .. 63.8 .. 50.0 .. 51.0 .. 12.3

Summit Park .. .. .. .. .. 63.9 .. 59.8 .. 66.7 .. 67.9 .. 46.5 .. 17.4

Sussex .. .. .. .. .. .. . 37.7 .. 29.6 .. 22.2 .. 20.4 .. 15.2 .. 22.5

Timber Grove .. .. .. .. . 57.4 .. 39.4 .. 25.5 .. 37.0 .. 26.5 .. 30.9

Timonium .. .. .. .. .. .. 88.9 .. 71.8 .. 46.1 .. 52.5 .. 70.0 .. 18.9

Victory Villa .. .. .. ... 57.1 .. 45.7 .. 30.5 .. 33.9 .. 31.9 .. 25.2

Villa Cresta .. .. .. .. . 37.0 .. 33.3 .. 27.3 .. 32.1 .. 28.3 ... 8.7

Warren .. .. .. .. .. .. . 62.0 .. 57.0 .. 59.0 .. 55.6 .. 60.4 ... 1.6

Wellwood .. .. .. .. .. .. 49.3 .. 47.1 .. 46.7 .. 62.7 .. 38.8 .. 10.5

Westowne .. .. .. .. .. .. 47.1 .. 31.4 .. 33.8 .. 42.2 .. 41.0 ... 6.1

Winand .. .. .. . .. .. .. 39.6 .. 32.9 .. 15.7 .. 28.9 .. 13.8 .. 25.8

Winfield .. .. .. .. .. .. 33.3 .. 15.6 ... 5.9 ... 7.3 .. 13.6 .. 19.7

Woodbridge .. .. .. .. ... 34.3 .. 26.7 .. 46.4 .. 38.6 .. 42.6 .. -8.3

Woodmoor .. .. .. .. .. .. 25.7 .. 20.0 .. 18.4 .. 13.9 .. 17.9 ... 7.8

Pub Date: 12/22/98

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