By Karen Butterfield

Missourian Staff Writer

Improvement practices at Union Middle School appear to be working.

While various department officials boasted of improved scores, perhaps the most telling sign of improvement was the testimony of a student who took part in the Academy of Reading offered at the middle school.

The student, who was only introduced as Nick, visited the school board in March to talk about his transformation.

“It all started at the beginning of the year. I couldn’t really take a test without having it read, because I couldn’t really read,” he said.

He spoke of going to Tina Brueggemann’s resource lab classroom to have tests read to him.

But one day, “I went up there to take a science test, and she was busy, so I had to take it by myself.

“And I got an 80 (percent),” he said.

Cheers erupted in the boardroom as visitors and the board applauded his achievement and his courage in speaking to the crowd.

The student has since graduated out of the program, improving his reading scores by more than a grade level.

Ty Crain, middle school principal, said the school revisited its mission, vision and direction, as well as corroboratively developed an RTI (Response To Intervention) program.

The slogan is “Committed to Success.”

“Data is used to identify where students are at,” including with Pathdriver testing for reading and math, grade level tests, district assessments, MAP, Gates, Star tests, teacher input and other assessment tests.

“Any piece of data that we could get our hands on, we try to utilize to get as broad of a picture as we could — to look at students globally and to get all the information we could moving forward,” Crain said.

Model

The school uses a four-tier model. Tier one includes classroom intervention, differentiation and tutoring. Tier two utilizes an advisory “power hour” for additional instruction.

If the first two tiers are unsuccessful, tier three includes more intense intervention, with 50 additional minutes of instruction per day five days per week, during a student’s elective class.

If the power hour and more intense intervention still don’t yield results, the district will begin to look at further testing for possible special education services to help the student.

Academy

Students test in Pathdriver three times per year in what is called a universal screening.

Based on that, students who need the most help are identified.

“If they’re in the ‘red,’ it means they’re in the bottom 25 percent of students,” Brueggemann said, noting that the screenings are nationally normed.

Before any student is placed in the Academy of Reading or Academy of Math, they also are given a placement test and other data is studied.

If students are placed, a training program is created specifically for them.

Brueggemann can monitor progress and do individual instruction as needed.

So far, students using Pathdriver have seen an average 20-point gain in reading and math scores. Science scores have increased an average of 25 percent from pre- to post-test scores.

Power Hour

Power Hour is held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for 23 minutes each day on a three-week rotation.

During power hour, students who are struggling focus on academic intervention. Other students work in enrichment programs.

Science, math, English and literature teachers each select 10 students who they will do additional instruction with, focusing on specific skills and areas through small group instruction.

The remainder of the staff has developed lessons that are engaging, focused on critical thinking and problem solving and working with constructive response, where they justify that thinking, Crain said.

Students shift to different sessions every three weeks. A student can only be in an intervention session for two rounds before they are placed in an enrichment session.

Ideally, Crain said, there will be six sessions per semester, though there will only be five this semester because the program is new.

Jane Mueller, library teacher and Science Olympiad sponsor, said she modeled her power hour activity after a Science Olympiad event, where students are challenged to build a catapult to launch a projectile at a specific target.

Students must work together to develop a plan, build and test their catapult and troubleshoot.

They don’t have the target until the launch date, so they must keep an accurate data chart, Mueller noted, as well as work with independent and dependent variables.

Robert Rogers, social studies teacher, has students develop and maintain a website students named The CATCH — “Cool, Awesome, Trustworthy and Creative Homepage.”

“Their idea is to ‘catch’ UMS students being awesome,” Rogers said. “Every week it gets better. The kids build on what the last group did and what’s really cool is that it’s all their interests.”

The website is UMS.weebly.com.

All content is student generated and even features an Instagram account.

“You can see their fingerprints all over it,” Rogers said. “What they do in 20 minutes three times per week is pretty impressive to me.”

Amanda Sullivan, reading/literature teacher, explained the intervention side of power hour, including how students are selected and how even the intervention part has been made fun with games that focus on themes they struggle with.

“I like that we call it power hour for everyone because the kids don’t seem to think of power hour as anything different from kids in enrichment or for kids who need the extra help,” Sullivan said.

At first, kids were reluctant, but have warmed up to the idea of an extra few minutes of reading or math practice during power hour.