Officials tweak middle school schedules:
Parents say changes don't go far enough
Comments from Annie: Here is an illustration of how local decisions are made specific to the states compliance with NCLB. No meaningful concession is allowed for anything in conflict with a total focus on testing; that is just how it is in these days since NCLB.
What else can I say? I hope, as always, that parents and teachers are reading and signing the petition , and that they make the time to fight the policies that suffocate learning in our schools.
By RYAN BAGWELL
With new state science tests scheduled to start next year, school officials yesterday announced a change in the county's middle school schedule that will let students take two key subjects all year long.
Starting in August, kids will take science and social studies every other day throughout the year instead of taking each subject for a semester at a time.
The move will eliminate a scheduling quirk for some students who find themselves without science for two semesters in a row. Those students wind up taking science in the first semester of one year, then take it in the second semester of the next year.
But the change doesn't address other scheduling complaints, including increased workload for some middle school teachers and too few classes for some subjects each semester.
"It is marginally better," said Regina Cornelius, a Severna Park parent who sat on the committee that looked at the schedule last year. "It's an attempt to address the problem, but without increasing the amount of time the teachers have to share the amount of information they have to in the course."
Parents and teachers have complained about the middle school schedule since the tenure of former superintendent Eric J. Smith in 2003. It emphasizes math and reading, the two subjects tested by state officials annually.
The four, 86-minute periods each day gave teachers more class time, but severely limited the number of classes students have in some subjects like gym, and boosted teacher workload for so-called "encore courses" like music and art.
Now students take math and English every day in both semesters, but social studies and science for a single semester only.
Other classes, like music, art and physical education, are taken on a three-day rotating schedule.
The now-defunct task force that Ms. Cornelius served on looked at an overhaul of the middle school schedule that included year-round science and social studies.
Officials also wanted all eighth-graders to take language arts classes year-round instead of having the option of taking them every other day, alternating with a foreign-language class.
But Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell put that decision on hold, saying he wants to wait for a broader middle school reform plan expected this spring.
That means a long-awaited overhaul of the middle school schedule won't start until at least the fall of 2008, school system spokesman Bob Mosier said.
The Band-Aid change announced yesterday will help prepare students for new state science tests that must be given in elementary and middle school by the end of the 2007-08 school year, school officials said.
"These two subjects need to be reinforced on a regular basis, and the current schedule doesn't allow for that," Dr. Maxwell said in a written statement.
While it might benefit students, the change probably will mean more work for some middle school teachers who will see the number of kids they teach double, said Susan Brown, the chairman of Central Middle's science department who won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in 2005.
"I was afraid that something like that would happen," she said.
The Maryland State Online Science Assessments will start next year, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This year, students will be tested in math and reading, like they have been since 2003.
Catherine Gilbert, one of the school system's two middle school directors, called the new schedule an "interim step" while officials decide on more substantive changes. But she said change will help in the short term.
"I think having the information on a current basis when they sit down to take the science assessment in grade 8 will be a good thing for them," she said.
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