Academic Triage

Sniff, sniff, cough…ugh.  It is one of those nagging winter colds that hang around for weeks.  Finally, after your second bottle of Nyquil, you decide to see the doctor so she’ll give you something to clear it up.   You’re sitting in the exam room, impatiently expecting that every footstep you hear in the hallway is the doctor finally coming in.  Eventually, the doc walks in looks at you and states emphatically, “You have a cold.   Take some Nyquil,” and then leaves the room.   Doesn’t take your blood pressure.   Doesn’t ask you any questions.  Just a quick look, instant diagnosis, and sends you off with a cold.

If the above scenario really happened, you would say to yourself, “But she didn’t even examine me?!”  What if you had a sinus infection?  What if it was strep throat!  At a Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 8.47.34 AMminimum, you would expect them to take your temperature, blood pressure, and get your weight.   This basic triage data and a physical exam would give the doctor data necessary to diagnose and prescribe treatment.

Assessment in school is supposed to do for education professionals what triage and exam does for medical professionals.    Symptoms of academic difficulty could be low grades, dislike of school, off-task behavior, and frequent absences.    If a student is diagnosed with reading difficulty, or other academic ailments, then basic assessment data should back-up a diagnosis.   Additionally, once the diagnosis is made, assessment data should determine the prescribed intervention.   Just as you would question a physician that prescribes medicine without a proper physical exam and triage, so we should question educational decisions that are not supported by data.

For the past couple of weeks, students in the Copper River School District have been academically triaged using quick measures of academic health.  AIMSweb Assessments and MAPS Assessments are both quick tests to track academic progress and identify learning problems.  AIMSweb assessments are short verbal tests used to measure literacy and numeric skills in kindergarten through 2nd grade and for non-proficient 3rd graders.   For K-11, Measures of Academic Progress (MAPS), “provide detailed, actionable data about where each child is on their unique learning path.”

Click here  to learn more about AIMSweb and here to learn more about MAPS Assessments.  You can also contact your child’s teacher, principal or Tammy Van Wyhe, Director of Teaching and Learning.

At your next Parent/Teacher Conference, ask your child’s teacher to see results from the most recent academic triage.  If your child or adolescent struggles in school, ask for a diagnosis based on data and then work with the teacher to develop an effective prescription for improved academic health.

It is important to remember, however, that while a doctor can prescribe medicine, he doesn’t follow you home to make sure you take it as directed.   Academic health isn’t the sole responsibility of teachers.    Students and their parents must accept the responsibility for improving academic performance.   For some, that will be over-the-counter activities such as reading for thirty minutes each evening.  For others, a more intensive approach will be needed which will involve more time, effort and daily collaboration with teachers.

There are also limits.  Just as a person can take too much medicine, students can have too much testing.    The federal and state governments each have requirements for testing in public schools.   Following regulations and getting valuable assessment data present a challenge for teachers, administrators, and locally elected school officials.    Please contact your child’s school if you have any questions regarding state, district or classroom assessments your student is taking.

Physical and academic health have several aspects in common.   Both require healthy choices and a disciplined lifestyle.

Published by

Michael J.


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