At a time when Maryland is seeking to boost stagnant eighth-grade reading test scores, teachers and principals from middle schools across the state will gather tomorrow for four days of brainstorming and planning on how to improve instruction.
The fourth meeting of the Maryland Reading Network - to be held at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg - will focus for the second consecutive year on middle school reading programs.
"It is such a change in the culture for middle schools to think about reading instruction," said Michele Goady, chief of the Maryland State Department of Education's language development section and specialist in reading and communication skills. "The belief is that reading needs to be interdisciplinary, that all teachers need to be reading teachers. Many teachers aren't used to that."
The first two years of the summer conference focused on elementary school reading instruction, as school districts across Maryland were struggling to find a new direction in how to teach children. Now that school systems have begun seeing reading score gains in early grades, the state has turned some of its focus to middle school.
Reading scores on the eighth-grade portion of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program exams have long been a concern for state educators. The percent of pupils with satisfactory scores on that portion of the exam has declined in recent years, from 28.6 percent in 1996 to 25.3 percent in 1999.
For the conference, superintendents from all 24 Maryland school systems have selected a school from each system to participate. The schools send teams - typically the principal and about four teachers - to share what they're doing well and to learn from speakers, as well as from the successes of the other schools. After the conference, many schools spread what they've learned to others within their systems.
"They are able to have a nice, concentrated time to focus on reading and plan what they want to do," Goady said. "You can't do that in just a few hours before or after school."