Eyes on achievement

Specialists work to improve student performance

Specialists work to improve student performance

April 21, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Julie Nigh has what she considers the "ultimate job."

As a student achievement specialist at Pangborn Elementary School she watches teachers work in the classroom and then passes on their best ideas and strategies to other educators.

When she sees a creative teaching strategy, "I put that in my bag of information," said Nigh, 33, who previously was a classroom teacher in the Washington County Public Schools system for eight years.

"What other job do you have where you get to visit other teachers' classrooms and see all the excellent strategies?" Nigh said.


Nigh is one of 31 student achievement specialists who work in the school system's elementary schools, holding the new positions created last summer, Jill Burkhart, supervisor for elementary reading, social studies and early learning, said Tuesday.

The school system created the new positions as a way to promote staff development in order to improve students' performance and achievement, Burkhart said.

As part of their job, the student achievement specialists track student progress through ongoing assessments and help teachers develop lessons to keep their students on track to meet the federal mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, Burkhart said.

Nigh said one of the highlights of her job is seeing a "spark or a glimmer" as a teacher realizes a better way to teach a lesson. That "re-energizes" the teachers and that energy trickles down to the students, she said.

The student achievement specialists have been trained at data collection and analysis, she said.

Information about students' education levels and growth is collected and measured more often than in past years, Nigh said.

Nigh used a basketball analogy to describe the value of the student achievement specialists' work. Before the positions were created it was like playing basketball without a scoreboard: You can play the game but it is more difficult to know how you're faring.

Now the specialists collect information that helps teachers and other school employees track how students are progressing, Nigh said.

When students' scores "flatline," the specialists step in and, in conjunction with the pupils' teachers, place the students in intervention groups, Nigh said.

The specialists lead some of the intervention groups and assist the teachers with others, Nigh said. Most groups have about six to eight students, she said.

If, for example, a student's reading skills are not improving, the student can be given additional help through an intervention group whose members do independent reading, she said.

The intervention groups provide "a second dose" of education, she said.

The student achievement specialists also perform staff development, coaching teachers and modeling strategies for teaching, said Ann Corderman, 58, the other student achievement specialist at Pangborn Elementary. Corderman has worked as an educator in the school system for about 25 years, most recently as a reading improvement teacher.

Research has shown that providing teachers with coaches, not to supervise but to work with teachers and make suggestions, helps improve education, Corderman said.

"Coaching is not teaching teachers. It is working alongside ... them, planning together, talking to them about their lessons," Corderman said.

Most schools only have one student achievement specialist, but Title I schools, including Pangborn, have two, Burkhart said.

In addition to those in the elementary schools, 13 student achievement specialists work in secondary schools, schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

Title I is a federally-funded program that provides financial assistance to help low-achieving students in high-poverty schools meet high-quality standards of performance.

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