In the recent principal shake-up, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) converted Anna Van Zile from a principal to a Student Achievement Teacher (SAT).
Many have asked, is this just another layer of administration?
No, says Director of Student Achievement Brenda Case.
Case says that in order to boost student test scores, the district needs teachers at each school site to help her cope with state and federal reforms, including the critical thinking curriculum overhaul embodied by Common Core, school grades that will affect funding and new teacher evaluation systems dictated by the state.
Case says her strong points are curriculum and instruction. She feels comfortable researching best practices and coaching teachers to teach the new standards, but she is only one person and needs help at each campus.
Common Core requires students to hit benchmarks based on international, high-performing schools’ expectations as they move through their educational careers.
The state has not only adopted the Common Core guidelines, but linked both teacher salaries and school funding to student scores on a set of national tests tied to the Common Core curriculum.
Reformers hope the new standards will focus on developing reasoning skills at an earlier age and showing improvement between pre-tests and post-tests.
To reach these ambitious goals, school districts around the country, including PUSD, will need stronger teaching and more rigorous course materials — that is where the SATs come in, says Case.
“SAT teachers are specifically strong in curriculum,” she said.
Case has written a new job description for an SAT, which the board approved as a certified teaching job, not an administrative position.
Seventy percent of an SAT’s day will be spent coaching individual teachers who ask for help, analyzing data from pre- and post-tests, doing large and small group training on how to analyze data and helping teachers teach and assess what their students need to learn.
Each week, SATs will train teachers on programs such as Beyond Textbooks, the new curriculum program the district has purchased from the Vail, Ariz. school district and Capturing Kids Hearts, a classroom management program.
On a monthly basis, Case sees SATs involved with timelines for assessments and distributing teaching materials that align with the Common Core.
SATs will also be instrumental in revamping the Response to Intervention (RTI) Program for kids who are falling behind.
Currently, when a child struggles in the classroom in reading or math, teachers pull the child out to a separate RTI classroom.
Case said that was not how RTI was designed to work.
She said the first tier of RTI is to teach everyone a concept.
“Put those kids that got it on activities at an independent level,” she said. “Those who didn’t go to the Tier II level, small-group instruction.”
If students still do not understand the concept, then they go to a special pull-out session under a Tier III intervention.
If the student continues to struggle, Case said the child might qualify for special education.
“The SAT teacher will incorporate special education after Tier III,” she said, “but 80 percent of the problems will be caught in the classroom.”
Case and the committee members that suggested an SAT position for Van Zile believe she could add a lot to the curriculum at Payson High School. Van Zile served on the national committee that helped develop the Common Core standards in English.