Mamaroneck district schools have historically provided extra help for struggling students, but it was not until last spring that the Mamaroneck School Board adopted a formal Academic Intervention Services (AIS) Plan, as required by state regulations. As described at the October 6 study session by Annie Ward, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, the new plan goes far beyond previous efforts.
Describing AIS as a “state-mandated safety net” for students who are at risk of not meeting state standards for their grade levels, Ms. Ward explained that formulating the plan required answering two big questions:
What should be the “entrance” criteria for AIS? In some cases, like elementary reading, answering the question required making an initial decision on benchmarks for each grade level.
How would the district determine whether a student met the AIS criteria? Which assessments should be used?
Consideration of these questions by administrators, instructional coaches and reading specialists led to the 86-page AIS plan, chock full of charts and tables, to determine everything from the target reading levels for elementary students at any given point in the year to the specific assessments that would be done in each grade to determine who needs extra support.
What’s New About the Plan?
Both the AIS plan itself and Ms. Ward’s presentation emphasized several basic tenets that may differ with traditional practice in the district. In contrast to the old model of providing homework help and “keeping kids afloat in daily assignments,” Ms. Ward said the new plan requires schools to identify gaps in students’ abilities and provide instruction to close those gaps. Moreover, AIS services are available to all students, including those receiving special education support.
The plan balances district-wide consistency with the need to tailor instruction for each AIS student. Ms. Ward noted that AIS services must supplement, not replace, the regular classroom program. Figuring out how to fit everything into the school day can be a challenge, particularly for students who are pulled out of class for other services (such as speech).
In general, AIS support will come from special math and reading teachers, or by special education teachers who have time in their daily schedules.
The district is exploring before-school AIS for elementary math, to help counter “Swiss cheese” instruction, where students are constantly out of their classrooms. However, this requires finding extra funds to staff “morning math,” and may not assure that all needy students show up.
How Do You Decide on the Right Level of Support?
In addition to selecting who gets AIS services, specified assessments help decide exactly what support students receive.
Ms. Ward described three first graders, each assessed at the same low level in reading. Additional tests, however, showed the children had vastly different skills and weaknesses. On a spelling test, for example, one student had clearly mastered beginning and ending consonants for various words and understood that a vowel came between them. Another was unable to reliably produce the initial consonants. Despite their similar reading scores, each will receive different levels of support to help them attain grade level benchmarks.
In some cases, Ms. Ward emphasized, monitoring may be enough to assure that students catch up to where they should be.
The district has not yet determined how long AIS support should be tried before a student is referred for a special education evaluation. This is among the issues to be explored as the district develops its Instructional Support Team (IST) plan, which is slated to happen this year.
Who Gets AIS?
Ms. Ward’s presentation demonstrated that the district plan casts a wider net than is required by standardized state assessments. For example, the district is mandating AIS services for elementary students who passed state math tests but got fewer than 70 percent of the questions correct.
Similarly, Ms. Ward gave the example of “RT,” a high school sophomore who is receiving extra support even though he passed all his classes last year, with grades from 70 to 79. RT was on Assistant Principal Gail Kleiner’s radar because he failed the standardized English Language Arts test in eighth grade and had made grades lower than 75 in ninth. He now takes a class that provides extra help in organization and study skills and is enrolled in a Geometry section that moves at a slower pace.
The plan and planners got praise from the board, community members and Superintendent Paul Fried. Dr. Fried thanked Ms. Ward and her team for their “gargantuan effort” in pulling together the plan. He also commended Mamaroneck High School principal Dr. Mark Orfinger and the MHS administration, noting that high schools are not known for monitoring and tracking student progress.
See For Yourself: The AIS Plan is available on the district website. LMC-TV videotaped the session.