Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Officials work out Bridge Plan

Board set up steering committee to look over details

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School officials are figuring out how to implement the state’s Bridge Plan for Academic Validation, developed last year so students who continue to fail the High School Assessments can still graduate by completing projects.

Carroll County Public Schools set up a steering committee to look at how the Bridge Plan will work, said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent of instruction.

Under the plan, students who fail the High School Assessments more than once may have to complete up to seven projects in each of the four test areas they failed. Students who fail all four assessments could be required to complete 28 projects.

The number of projects depends on students’ score on each of the four subject areas — algebra, biology, English and government.

The lower the student grades, the more alternative projects the student will have to complete to graduate.

For instance, a student who scores 391 in algebra, missing the 412 passing score by 21 points, will have to complete one alternative algebra project in order to graduate. But a student who scored below 280 in the same subject will be required to complete seven projects.

The Bridge Plan will go in effect next school year, the first in which seniors will have to pass the High School Assessments to graduate.

Carroll’s committee, which is made up of principals, directors, academic facilitators, testing coordinators and teachers, met once earlier this month and again Monday.

The first time around, Johnson said the committee went over the Bridge Plan draft that the state provided, and came up with a list of questions.

‘‘A lot of monitoring – who will monitor while the student is going through the plan? Who would be the point person?” Johnson said.

The Bridge Plan indicates that students would still need to meet ‘‘satisfactory” levels in areas such as attendance and grades. ‘‘Well, what does ‘satisfactory’ mean?’” Johnson asked.

The committee began trying to answer some of those questions on Monday.

According to the state, a student needs to have satisfactory attendance the year before to be eligible for the Bridge Plan. The committee discussed where the satisfactory level should be set, and there were several recommendations that fell between 88 percent to 94 percent.

Greg Bricca, director of research and accountability, said he would pull student attendance data together to be used as a reference at the next meeting, which is expected to take place in late February.

Johnson said the committee will likely involve the Carroll County Board of Education, and will seek comments from the community.

‘‘We’re going to have to get some public input,” he said.

South Carroll High School Principal Eric King is part of the steering committee, and said he had a mixed view of the implementation of the Bridge Plan.

‘‘It’s a nice sort of life raft out there for some kids,” he said about the testing alternative, but it won’t reach all of the students who might need it.

King said that because of the way the program is set up, it could exclude students who might be most in need of the alternative. To qualify, students need to be ‘‘on track to graduate,” he said, which could be difficult for some students to meet.

Frederick County

In Frederick County, the Bridge Plan will affect a group of about 85 to 100 students who are juniors and have not yet passed the High School Assessments, said Rebecca Koontz, the county director for high schools.

That number includes students who may have just passed the High School Assessments in January, she said. After that, juniors will still have another chance to pass the tests in May.

‘‘Our kids can do this,” she said. ‘‘This is not a doomsday scenario.”

The Bridge Plan is for students who attempted and failed the tests at least twice, took interventions, met attendance requirements, and made adequate progress toward earning a diploma.

Once a student has been determined eligible for the Bridge Plan, he or she will be assigned to complete appropriate project modules and a project mentor to work with them while completing the requirements. Parents will also be involved in the process, and will have to sign under the student’s assigned work and completion dates.

Having that information, individual schools in Frederick County will now work to determine how many students they have qualifying for the Bridge Plan and what would be the best way to schedule their work on the projects.

The biggest challenge with that will be the fact that schools will not receive any extra funding to implement the plan, said Ann Bonnitatibus, the school system’s associate superintendent for secondary schools.

That means schools will have to use the teachers and resources they already have. For instance, the system’s High School Assessment specialists will also play a role as mentors for the students in the Bridge Plan programs.

The process will not be simple and will require careful planning and reorganization of duties, but it can be done, she said.

‘‘We are just going to have to come up with individual plans for each student,” she said. ‘‘... We are not talking about hundreds and thousands of children. Our teachers are very dedicated to that small group of students.”

Staff Writer Margarita Raycheva contributed to this report.