Focus on Education

Blue Hill & Castine
Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 30, 2012 and The Weekly Packet, August 30, 2012
Identifying what students need, when they need it
Union 93 to roll out unified student screening

Focus on Education 2012 Archive
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by Anne Berleant

This year, every student in Union 93 schools will be assessed three times to identify whether they’re hitting, missing or exceeding expected learning targets.

While the assessment screening tool, called AIMSweb, is not new for Union 93 schools, the consistent application of it is, according to Union 93 curriculum coordinator Rachael Ramos.

“Union 93 is making an effort to have a union-wide analysis of what each child needs [and] whether they’re above or below benchmarks,” said Ramos.

AIMSweb is a curriculum-based data management system and assessment tool that, according to its website, “uses brief, valid and reliable General Outcome Measures of reading and math performance for grades K-8 that can be used with any curriculum.”

AIMSweb is designed for the Response to Intervention (RTI) program that, in Maine, is state-mandated to ensure that students who need extra help in math and reading are identified and receive that help.

However, Ramos plans to use the program to also help identify—along with information and input from teachers and parents—students who fall into the category of gifted and talented.

“Right now, there’s no money budgeted for a gifted/talented program in the union,” Ramos said.

But because a state mandate now requires schools have a gifted/talented program in place, Ramos is working with union 93 teachers to create a plan that doesn’t require hiring new staff.

Currently, schools have worked with gifted and talented students in different ways, Superintendent Mark Hurvitt has said in previous conversations.

Teaching eighth-graders algebra through classes at George Stevens Academy, such as Blue Hill Consolidated School does, or through tutoring at Penobscot Community School are two examples. Surry ran its own gifted and talented program until it was cut from the budget for 2012-13.

An early goal of the teachers that Ramos is working with is to come up with a definition of “gifted and talented” that works for Union 93, Ramos said.

“There are several ways to identify a gifted and talented child. We don’t have a union-wide definition yet,” she added.

Once a plan is created, it needs to be reviewed and approved by the Union 93 board and then submitted to the Maine Department of Education, Ramos said.

At this early juncture, she foresees two different plans: one for academically gifted students and one for students creatively gifted.

“Even if a child has exceeded benchmarks, it’s extremely important that child continues to progress,” Ramos said.

For students who are not reaching benchmarks for their grade level, AIMSweb screening will first identify them and then reassess them, weekly or bi-weekly, so they can be placed in one of three RTI tiers.

The first tier is “teaching as we know it,” Ramos said. Before screening, “all students are in tier one.”

After initial AIMSweb screening, students who are below benchmarks are placed in Tier 2 and given additional targeted and focused education in their regular classroom.

Tier 3, for students who don’t respond to Tier 2, includes “intensive intervention in addition to education in the general classroom,” Ramos said.

If Tier 3 doesn’t work for a student, he or she will then be given a referral for special education. That referral may eventually end up placing them back in Tier 2, Ramos said.

“There are so many factors that come into play when a child is not succeeding,” she said.

“We want to meet the needs of the child who misses benchmarks—and also exceeds benchmarks.”