Reading, ’rithmetic initiatives reaping results at Baraga

BARAGA – Baraga Area Schools has been working for several years on improving elementary reading proficiency, and the specific strategies that have led to noticeable improvements there are now expanding to higher grade levels and other subjects.

“It goes back about five years. We did training and preparation, and about three years ago we started implementing a system of tiered or leveled supports in reading,” BAS Superintendent and Grades K-2 Principal Jennifer Lynn said in a telephone interview this morning. “… Essentially what we’ve seen, since we started three years ago, we’ve seen a doubling of student’s reading proficiency earlier.”

The district uses student assessments, which only take a few minutes, at the beginning, middle and end of the school year – “frequent, but non-invasive testing,” according to Lynn – and it uses that diagnostic to craft a team approach to intervention.

“What’s nice about the assessments is they’re short, rather than days and days of testing. We help target where the student needs support, and there’s a lot of coordination with teachers for intervention,” Lynn said. “We’re investing at the K-2 level, so we save ourselves the catch-up costs farther down the line.”

The plan is a result of deliberate district-wide improvement initiatives, and this year a similar program is being implemented in math through a new core computer program in grades K-3. Teachers have already been trained on how to effectively engage students with the technology.

“That program is designed along the same lines of providing intervention, identifying early on what the needs are and providing the differentiated or individualized support when needed,” Lynn said. “We’ve got the momentum going in reading, now we’re going to be expanding into using this in math.”

The initiatives won’t just benefit students who may be falling behind by providing the necessary intervention, but it will provide teachers a better understanding of students who are excelling as well, and continue to challenge them. BAS is now working with the Copper Country Intermediate School District to expand the improvement model through higher grades.

“This year will be the planning year for that,” Lynn said. “Teaching will start getting oriented in the spring. We’ll start with a leadership team, then identify some core staff members. Then as spring approaches, we’ll strategically start rolling out the next steps.”

The district has gotten off to a smooth start with this school year, according to Lynn, and at least an estimate of the fall student count will be given at the 7 p.m. Monday regular school board meeting in the school library. The school board is still in negotiations with the teachers’ union, and until an agreement is reached, the board will establish the school calendar on a month-by-month basis.