The staff of Elkin City Schools is continuously reviewing the options of academic programs offered for its students to see if there are changes that need to be made to improve its offerings or encourage students to seek more rigor in their courses. Monday night the instructional leaders spent time updating the school board on topics such as the possibility of offering Math I Honors to ninth-graders and how to expand Academically and Intellectually Gifted programs to additional students despite limited resources.
Now every three years school systems in the state are required to update their AIG plan and licensure requirements, explained Cynthia Altemueller, chief instructional officer, as a follow-up to presenting the three-year plan to the school board back in May. She explained Monday that the school system is still waiting on approval of the updated plan, for years 2016-2019, from the state Department of Public Instruction, but that amendments can be made to that plan if the program changes locally.
Four pathways are used now to determine if a student in grades fourth through 12th qualifies to participate in the AIG program, those include scoring at high levels on the cognitive abilities test or through other indicators such as testing through outside sources.
The school leadership has discussed the possibility of other ways of identifying students who might excel in AIG programs, or even lowering the eligibility requirement to less than the now-required 95 score on the cognitive abilities test to qualify.
One of the concerns for Altemueller, AIG Coordinator Karen Spencer and other educators is how the school system will provide AIG program expansions with limited staff who are certified for AIG licensure. In years past, if a teacher was interested in being AIG certified, they could take a test to qualify for an add-on to the teaching license, but now it is required for teachers to take university-level courses for 12 to 16 semester hours of credit at a minimum to get that certification.
“I don’t have funds to tap into to help [the teachers] like we used to,” said Altemueller, adding that some school systems will contract with an outside agency to provide a series of classes interested teachers can take to gain an endorsement, which is not the same as a licensure.
Also, rather than lowering Elkin’s required 95 score for students to qualify, interim Superintendent Dr. Don Martin said expanding academic offerings to additional students can be done through other means, such as identifying the next highest level students based on end-of-grade courses and putting them with AIG-identified students in a class.
“In some cases, those ‘live-in’ students outperformed the AIG-identified students,” Martin said of his experience in seeing that happen in other school systems. “There are a lot of ways to deliver [AIG programs], and the delivery method is a way to open the door without changing the criteria” to qualify.
Spencer suggested that the school system hold off on any changes to the AIG program, since the state has said it should have feedback on the submitted plan back by December. “It will tell us our strengths and weaknesses on each standard, and one of those standards is identification,” she said.
Nationally, about six to 10 percent of a system’s students qualify for AIG programs. Altemueller reported Monday that in Elkin City Schools, 141 of the system’s 834 fourth- through 12th-graders qualify, which equates to 16.9 percent.
At the middle into high school level, educators spent Monday night also addressing the question of whether to offer Math I on the honors level to ninth-graders, rather than just offering a regular Math I course only.
As it is now set up, eighth-graders who qualify can take Math I Honors at the middle-school level, and while it does count toward their graduation credits, it does not count toward their high school GPA. Those students then take Math II Honors as freshmen.
Other eighth-graders take eighth-grade math and then take regular Math I as freshmen either in one semester during second semester, or in a year-long format. Also, a handful of sophomores could be in Math I second semester to help improve their grade from the first time and strengthen the basics before moving up to the next level of math required for graduation.
Educators had a couple of concerns with being able to offer Math I Honors at the ninth-grade level. The first was how to determine which students would qualify to take Math I Honors in ninth grade, whether that would be based on just A and/or B grades earned in eighth-grade math, or high-level scores received on EOGs for eighth-grade math.
Another concern was how to fit an additional math course into the already packed schedule for math teachers at the high-school level without replacing the regular level semester-long Math I now offered with an honors course so that those taking the course a second time don’t have to retake a year-long offering.
In looking at other school systems that do offer Math I Honors in ninth grade, Altemueller said those other schools have one additional math teacher that Elkin doesn’t have. “It’s going to be a bear to schedule,” she said, if the school system decides to offer it.
Elkin High School Principal Joel Hoyle also added that some of the schools offering Math I Honors in ninth grade don’t offer Math I in eighth grade.
No final decision has been made on how to handle the question of whether to offer the course in the future. School board member Frank Beals said he would take the recommendation of what the math teachers and instructional leaders feel is an appropriate way to handle the decision.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.