The Edgartown School will begin a pilot enrichment program next year aimed at students working at advanced levels in math — a program that, if successful, could be adopted by other Island schools.
The local school committee voted last week in favor of a one-year trial of a fifth through eighth grade enrichment program in response to requests from parents about meeting the needs of high-ability math students.
Although there was not total agreement, the committee voted to approve up to $100,000 in funding for a teacher, including salary and benefits, to lead the advanced math program for one year. The program will be funded by school choice monies available this year. If successful, Edgartown School principal John Stevens said he would work to include the program in the school budget for the following year.
“The point is not just to challenge the high-ability students, but to upgrade instruction for all students,” Mr. Stevens said, noting that the aim is to increase the number of students scoring at advanced levels on the mathematics MCAS test by 10 per cent.
Assistant superintendent of schools Laurie Halt said the program will be compared to other Island schools to see if the new program is meeting goals. A Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools enrichment team will meet with the instructor monthly to observe instruction and review student data.
At the school committee meeting, Mrs. Halt called the program “action research at its best,” and said the district will look at data after the pilot is completed. “We’re taking a leap,” she said of the program, which she called innovative and flexible.
Currently advanced math students receive part-time, limited extra instruction, Mr. Stevens said, before and after school.
This spring, a task group recommended that an experimental pilot program begin at the Edgartown School.
Mr. Stevens told the school committee there are already a significant number of students who could quality for the program and that those students encompass a broad spectrum of the student population, including English-language learners, free or reduced-lunch students and minority groups.
Selection criteria will include standardized test scores and classroom evaluation. The enrichment plan calls for the instructor to work with classroom teachers during the first four to six weeks of school to observe students, specifically their ability to reason abstractly and quantitatively, make sense of problems, model with mathematics and look for and make sense of structure.
High-performing students will “have the opportunity to explore, investigate, estimate, question, predict and test ideas about math in an in-house grade level pullout model,” the enrichment plan states.
Some on the committee were hesitant to fully embrace the idea. “I have reservations about this — I’m not 100 per cent on board,” said committee chairman Susan Mercier. “I don’t like that we’re possibly creating a school within a school.”
She added that she would be more comfortable if all Island schools were participating, and she wanted to make sure the plan “fits the philosophy of the school and the mission.”
“I want them all to be together and learning together,” she said. “I don’t want to discount what we have in this building.”
Mr. Stevens said he thinks a lot of teachers embrace the plan and “some are looking on with curiosity to see how it all works out,” though some teachers are worried that bright students leaving the classroom will affect the spectrum of kids left in the classroom.
But some students need to be challenged, the principal said, and meeting the needs of those students is parallel to the school’s philosophy.
In some states, high-achieving students are considered special needs, Mr. Stevens later told the Gazette. But in Massachusetts, they are not, so there is no additional funding for advanced or enrichment programs.
But the students “still have special needs,” he added. Students who score the highest on the MCAS or other standardized tests “really think differently,” he said, and the school needs to make sure those students are challenged and their needs are met.
The school will be advertising for the position in the next few days, he said, and they hope to have the teacher in place by mid-August.
“It’s a very sensitive issue,” Mr. Stevens agreed, and the Edgartown School and other schools will look at the pilot program to see if it is successful. If so, he said, other schools may or may not decide to replicate it, depending on education needs and also budgets.
“It’s a big step in many different ways,” he said.