The following are excerpts from a recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Heeding the No Child Left Behind mandates, several Montgomery County high schools are loading up students with extra doses of math and language-arts instruction to help them pass 11th-grade state tests. Upper Merion High School has begun assigning ninth and 10th grade students weak in basic skills to math and writing labs, in addition to their math and language-arts courses. Springfield High School has doubled classroom time in math and language arts for some 10th graders.
And beginning next fall, Cheltenham High School will offer a course called English Plus with extra class time for students identified as weak readers. Students who need support in math will get twice as much instruction in a new algebra course. Our expectation is, with the benefit of extra instruction, these students will score at proficiency or better on the 11th-grade PSSAs, said Susan Beerman, assistant superintendent in Cheltenham.
In virtually all districts, proficiency is the goal these days. School leaders are under pressure to raise the numbers of students who score at proficient or advanced proficient levels on the state math and reading assessments known as the PSSAs. Administered at the fifth, eighth and 11th grades, plus third grade in 2005, the PSSAs have a diagnostic component; the test results denote students strengths or weaknesses in various areas. Schools use the PSSA data to give extra help to students who score at basic or below basic levels. The students benefit - and so do the schools, which avoid state sanctions by boosting student proficiency levels.
Kathy Entrekin, Upper Merions principal, said school personnel scrambled in late summer to review eighth-grade PSSA results and redo course schedules to include the labs. Students get course credit for taking the labs, and parents are consulted, Entrekin said. Upper Merion is investing in math and reading software that identifies a students weaknesses and then sets up individualized remedial programs. There also is an after-school study program, and teacher assistance is available on a drop-in basis, Entrekin said. These things are really going to help us, she said.
The aim in Cheltenham is for all students to achieve at high levels, Beerman said. Instead of watering down the curriculum, we are maintaining our standards - but giving some students more time to achieve them, she said.
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