Dec 07, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Many elementary school-age children can count to 100, but do they truly understand and recognize the numbers, what they mean and how they relate to each other? This is an important question for school educators and administrators, and one that Skaneateles is directly addressing this year with a new math assessment tool for grades K through 6.
The computer-based tool, AIMSweb, is defined on its website, aimsweb.com, as “a complete Web-based solution for universal screening, progress monitoring, and data management for Grades K-12” that “provides guidance to administrators and teachers based on accurate, continuous and direct student assessment.”
Waterman teachers and administrators are using it especially for mathematics to assess students in four key areas in kindergarten and first grade. The Web-based system then ranks student scores against national, state and local averages and suggests general issues to address in the math curriculum for each student.
“I look at it as a thermometer for a student — it gives a good idea of where a student is at,” said Waterman Elementary School Principal Gary Gerst, who was the prime mover in getting the AIMSweb tool to Skaneateles. “You don’t teach to this; it’s an assessment that gives us valuable information about where a student is in mathematics. This gives a deeper understanding of math at an earlier age and allows us to use national comparison standards to help us get an understanding of the kids who are at-risk, the kids who are at level and above level.”
The mathematical component of AIMSweb now in use at Waterman assesses students in four main areas: oral computing, number identification, quantitative discrimination and identifying numbers in a series.
The elementary math specialists for Waterman, Mary Baldwin and teacher Kim Ward, sit with each student one-on-one to administer the assessment. The test is done on paper, not on computer, and takes only about seven minutes per child — one minute for each of the four tests and time to give directions.
Ward said she finds AIMSweb to be user-friendly and time-efficient. With each test taking only 60 seconds, it’s easy to administer and simple to score. “The kids don’t even realize they’re taking a test,” she said. “We call it a ‘quick check,’ not a test, and they love to see how they did.”
Ward, who has been in the Skaneateles district 16 years, said that while there have been previous assessments programs — also called ‘interventions’ — in place, she finds AIMSweb to be the best she has used.
“We’re able to focus on where the student’s needs are, see the needs and see their strengths,” she said. “This helps us to better monitor student progress — it’s a great resource.”
After the tests are administered, student scores are entered into the AIMSweb program, which shows each child’s ranking under national and state standards, and even suggests if there is a need to change instruction.
The assessments are administered every fall, winter and spring, so a student’s ability and improvement can be tracked throughout the school year.
Gerst, who was a math curriculum coordinator earlier in his career, said he has long been concerned that curriculum-based assessments at local, state and national levels — which have focused so much on reading — have not been as focused on math, especially at the primary level of K through 2. In an educational environment in which STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is being so heavily promoted nationwide, it only made sense that Skaneateles should look into a better assessment tool.
“The key part of assessment is how do you inform instruction. It’s a buzzword, but it really is a key piece for us now,” he said.
As an elementary principal in the West Genesee school district, he saw firsthand the use and effect of the AIMSweb program there. So when he was hired as principal of Waterman this past summer, he broached the subject to Skaneateles district administrators and suggested the district look into it.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Interim Superintendent Judy Pastel.
Pastel, who started in the district at the end of summer, said that after talking with parents, teachers and administrators when she first arrived, she thought the district needed to do instruction to “increase student achievement across the board.” She talked to the school principals about it and Gerst mentioned AIMSweb and then did a demonstration.
“All we could see were positive things for students and teachers,” Pastel said. Since it’s been in use, the program has proven to offer sound data that allows teachers to focus on and address certain skills with students without slowing down the students or the entire class in other ways, she said.
“We must give teachers the tools they need to be successful [and] the teachers have really embraced it, and are using it the way it’s supposed to be used to monitor and improve instruction,” Pastel said. “It’s been really good for the children.”
The Skaneateles district also has done math assessments in grades 2 through 6 in computation and math concepts and application, and is learning how to use those assessments to help instruction in the future for those grades as well.
For more information on AIMSweb, visit aimsweb.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.