School specialists hope to keep students on track

July 21, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

A guiding role has been altered for veteran teacher Rebecca Collinson, but it's a change the former reading specialist sees as needed.

Collinson and nearly 30 other Washington County Public Schools teachers trained last week in their new positions as Student Achievement Specialists, a role that will require them to track student progress through standardized test scores and to help teachers develop lessons to keep their students on track with meeting the federal No Child Left Behind act's mandates.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.


Collinson, a reading improvement teacher for the past five years, has spent the last week learning how to identify problems in student test scores.

In North Hagerstown High School's auditorium last Monday, Katheryn Gemberling, a retired Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools deputy superintendent and national school system consultant, gave a sampling of the mentoring group a lesson on how to evaluate student data.

She gave the same lecture to another set of Student Achievement Specialists in June.

"You're going to try to make change in your schools," Gemberling said. "You're going to run into a lot of issues as you try to make change."

She said Student Achievement Specialists might hear from teachers reasons why particular groups of students cannot achieve: "They don't do their homework ... they live in apartments ... there's always some reason why they can't teach these kids."

By looking at data and not at the children themselves, teachers and Student Achievement Specialists will be able to become "dispassionately disengaged," she said.

She handed them a worksheet that listed 30 children's first names, each of which was trailed by eight scores, all categorized by different tested portions of a dummy Maryland standardized test.

The Student Achievement Specialists were given the task to interpret the chart, breaking the scores down into smaller groups of students, from those who needed the most help to those who needed the least.

Gemberling showed them how to isolate the groups with a multicolored chart she displayed from an overhead projector.

Collinson said a few weeks ago she dreaded data analysis but her attitude has changed since the training.

"I think all of us are feeling a lot more comfortable now. That was the part we were all nervous about," she said.

She said Student Achievement Specialists will be expected to analyze student data about every two weeks. The specialists then will report to teachers about areas in which students need help.

Collinson said the training later in the week with Aili Pogust, a national school system consultant, helped ease her colleagues' worries about presenting that data to teachers.

She said Pogust, who specializes in identifying body language, taught the group how to keep teachers focused during an end-of-day lecture.

Collinson said specialists will train again next month, working with their assigned school's data.

The 21-year teacher said after she left the training, her head was spinning with new ideas.

"I'm very excited about it. If teachers are flexible, they can see us as resources to help them," she said.

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