MARYLAND

Montgomery Gets Reading Grant Montgomery County Public Schools will receive a $3.6 million federal grant to better prepare low-income and non-English-speaking preschoolers to read.

Many such children arrive in kindergarten as much as a year and a half behind their English-speaking peers from families with higher incomes.

This difference, known as an "achievement gap," widens over the years, several national studies have shown.

The grant, one of 30 totaling $72 million nationwide to fund the No Child Left Behind Act, is intended to help bridge that gap.

In Montgomery County, the money will go to pay for literacy centers for about 300 4-year-olds at five elementary schools in Wheaton, an area of concentrated poverty. The program will extend to two child-care centers and include classes at the local library to teach parents how to promote reading and speaking skills.

The grant comes as Montgomery County is in the throes of revising its Head Start and early childhood programs to focus more on academics in an effort to meet the goal of having all children reading by third grade.

Steele Hires Urban Issues Adviser Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) announced yesterday that he has hired the Rev. John A. Heath, a minister, homeless activist and former Democrat, to advise him on urban issues and higher education and to help craft the administration's initiative to open state funds to "faith-based" organizations.

Heath, 33, has worked for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). He switched to the Republican Party this year, ran an unsuccessful campaign for the House of Delegates and played an active role in the campaign of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Heath will leave his job as special assistant to Coppin State College President Calvin W. Burnett to join Steele's staff but will retain his position as senior pastor at the House of Mercy in Baltimore.

Man Dies, 4 Hurt in Collision One man died, and four people were injured after five vehicles collided yesterday at Good Luck Road and Kenilworth Avenue in Greenbelt, authorities said.

The name of the 50-year-old man who was killed was not released last night. A 19-year-old woman was in serious condition at Prince George's Hospital Center, and three other people -- a 72-year-old woman, a 77-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman -- were listed in good condition at Doctors Community Hospital.

Prince George's police said at 11:30 a.m., a Ford pickup ran a red light and hit a van, which then ran into a Chevy pickup being driven by the man who died. Two other cars were also struck.

THE DISTRICT

Catholic Board Elects Chairman The Board of Trustees for Catholic University elected the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., as its new chairman yesterday.

The Most Rev. William E. Lori will take over from Cardinal Bernard F. Law, former archbishop of Boston, who served as chairman for 12 years before stepping down last month.

Lori, who was ordained in 1977 and received a doctorate in sacred theology from Catholic, was an auxiliary bishop of Washington before he was named bishop of Bridgeport two years ago.

VIRGINIA

Worker Crushed, Killed by Granite Slab

A 34-year-old Annandale man was crushed to death yesterday when a granite slab fell on him at a company in the Merrifield area of Fairfax County, police said.

The man, whose name was not released pending notification of relatives, and a 21-year-old Woodbridge man had been trying to move the slab about 5 p.m. at Neka Marble and Granite, 2810 Juniper St., police said.

The younger man was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital with injuries that police said were not believed to be life threatening.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating, police said.

State Test Requirements Toughened The Virginia Board of Education yesterday adopted a plan for complying with the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that every student pass state achievement tests by the 2013-14 school year.

The board's plan sets pass rates on Standards of Learning exams that schools will need to meet every year until the deadline or be labeled as needing improvement.

Next year, 61 percent of a school's student body will have to pass reading SOL tests, and 59 percent will have to pass math SOL exams.

Sub-groups of students, including racial groups and students eligible for free and reduced-price meals, will have to pass the tests in the same percentages.

Under the plan, local school districts will be not be able to exclude some students who do not speak English well.

Instead, schools will use tests they already administer to measure such students to determine whether they are making yearly progress in reading and math for up to three years or until their English allows them to take regular SOL tests.

The Maryland State Board of Education deferred action yesterday on a compliance plan until next month.

Driver Dies After Car Hits Truck The driver of a car that crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer along Route 28 near Chantilly was killed early yesterday, Fairfax County police said.

Danny Betts, 38, of Quail Run Lane in Manassas was driving a 1996 Saturn sedan north on Route 28 about 2:45 a.m. At the traffic light for Westfields Boulevard, Carl Wright, 44, of South 29th Street in Purcellville was driving a 1993 Peterbilt truck heading in the same direction.

When the light turned green, police said, Betts's vehicle approached the truck, the driver tried to stop and the car slammed into the truck.

Betts was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators said he was not wearing a seat belt, and he was not speeding at the time of the accident.

"Ehrlich needs to stop campaigning and start governing."

-- Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), on Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who will deliver his State of the State address today. Ehrlich said in an interview yesterday, "We've had a good start." -- Page B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Amy Argetsinger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Jackman, Brigid Schulte, Jamie Stockwell and Lori Montgomery and the Associated Press.