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Student specialists learning on the job

December 22, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Bar graphs. Meetings. Scatter plots. Mentors.

For the nearly 45 Student Achievement Specialists, who are Washington County Public Schools' school-level data crunchers and teacher coaches, every day brings more numbers, more tests and more goals to be broken down, sorted out and sent to teachers who are trying to understand why their students are failing, or better yet, how their students are succeeding.

"There are no typical days," said Tammy Montini, a former reading improvement teacher who took the position of Lincolnshire Elementary School's student achievement specialist this summer when the school system created the posts.

Previously, Montini worked specifically to help students read, but now she also helps students understand math. She coaches teachers and crunches numbers.

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Five months into the job, Montini said she has a system down: Once tests are given, she runs scores through a computer system that prints and highlights high and low marks in a way that allows teachers to see where lumps of students failed or succeeded.

"This year is such a huge learning curve for us," said Pat Craven, student achievement specialist at Fountaindale School for the Arts and Academic Excellence. Craven was a reading improvement teacher at the school last year.

"My days - it's just putting out a bunch of little fires," she said.

With new reading and math guides in the elementary schools, Craven said work can be overwhelming for teachers, who look to her to model lessons or to help them solve problems in their classrooms.

In middle schools, work is a little different for student achievement specialists, who sort through test scores by the marking period, by students who receive extra tutoring and by curriculum, which is tested periodically, said Jessica Reinhard-Stitt, a student achievement specialist at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

She said student achievement specialists show teachers groups of students who are underperforming as a way to help those teachers develop a new classroom strategy.

Since student achievement specialists are constantly looking at data, Montini said, it's unlikely that a student who needs help would be missed.

Debbie Nycum, a student achievement specialist at Smithsburg High School who also serves as the chairwoman of the school's English department, said the teachers really use her as a resource, asking her for advice on how to reach students or how to approach lessons.

"If I were to go to the classroom tomorrow, I would be a much better teacher," Nycum said of her experience working outside the classroom.

Montini said she doesn't yet consider herself a specialist, giving "specialist" status instead to classroom teachers who work closely with students on a daily basis. But she said students at Lincolnshire seem to understand why she's there.

Recently, a student approached Montini to show her that she could spell a difficult word.

"I think the elementary students are aware that we're there to help them," she said.

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