At Rim Country Middle School, heading to the front of the lunch line can be a motivational experience.
Principal Gary Witherspoon doles out lunch passes as motivational tools to spur students to perform better on tests.
The difference between a motivated and unmotivated child on test results can be startling, said Payson Unified School District Director of Special Services Barbara Fitzgerald.
For instance, the number of sixth-graders who tested at risk of falling behind on a math test dropped from 50 percent to 27 percent after accounting for motivation.
“The student is only competing against him or herself,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald presented to the governing board Tuesday night an update on the district’s new Response to Intervention program, which involves identifying students at risk of falling behind in elementary school and making them more likely to succeed in high school.
Differentiating between a child who doesn’t understand and one who needs a reward is hugely important for determining which students need extra help, Fitzgerald said.
Witherspoon and Payson for Success Principal Kathy Ketchem also updated the board on how their schools are meeting board goals.
The top goal of preparing students to graduate high school involves using the new program to help students at risk of failing.
Fitzgerald said roughly 80 percent of students in the district perform well, but about 20 percent need extra help.
Those figures run consistently with national averages.
Each elementary school has a person coordinating the new program and the district created an administrative-level coordinating position, all paid for with stimulus money.
At the middle school, a team is working to identify the best ways of supporting teachers as they help students.
Children who need extra academic help receive interventions for 20 minutes each day, at least four days each week.
Witherspoon said his school received the majority of cuts last year as the district played musical chairs with personnel when positions went unfilled because of budget cuts.
“That changes the dynamics and it’s tough,” Witherspoon said.
At the middle school, 35 students received tutoring during fall break.
“We didn’t pay them, no, they wanted to be there,” he said.
Response to Intervention is becoming a “buzzword” in education circles, according to Fitzgerald.
The program attempts to reduce the number of special education referrals and make sure all students are making academic progress.
Students in kindergarten through eighth-grade receive screenings three times each year, and teachers regularly monitor students.
Children who need extra help receive research-based interventions.
The district will focus on reading during the first year.
Other board goals include maintaining school facilities and grounds, as well as “exemplary” customer service across the district.