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Wednesday, 22 June 2011 17:08

Chinook's special education program interests provincial government

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By Chris Jaster — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Chinook School Division’s attempt to improve its programming for students who need extra support has caught the attention of the Ministry of Education.

For the last four years, including the 2010-11 school year, Chinook’s personal program plans for student who require special education has been exceptional. The division has met or been better than the provincial averages for the essential components of the plans.

This year, Chinook recorded four perfect scores, two 95 per cents and three 90 per cents in nine of the 10 categories judged by the ministry.

It scored 70 per cent for the category which judges whether students receive the proper supports from all parties. Chinook lost some marks since some interagency support isn’t available in smaller communities, but the division does supply that support. Based on the marking criteria, Chinook receives a lower mark despite providing better care.

Despite all these accolades, Lee Cummins, the superintendent of special education and student services found she didn’t have all the data she wanted from the personal program plans.

“If the board were to ask me if students on personal program plans were meeting the goals that were set for them and if they are or are not, to what degree, I can’t answer that right now,” said Cummins, who presented this information to Chinook’s board at its June 13 meeting. “I can answer it informally, but I wouldn’t have the hard data to show.”

That is why Cummins has developed a new dashboard — technology that assesses the level of knowledge a student has based on tests or a series of exercises — to find out how much information special needs students are retaining.

The new dashboard is based on the one used in the division’s balanced literacy program. It is currently being piloted at the Cypress Colony School, Ponteix School, Waldeck School and Sidney Street School in Maple Creek. Information gathered from these schools will be used for the baseline data before its implemented in every school in September.

So far, Cummins hasn’t heard anything negative about the new way to assess special education students.

“Everything I’ve heard has been positive,” said Cummins. “We’ve had technical glitches and students not in the right classrooms and all that sort of things, but most reports are that it’s easy to use and it parallels the literacy dashboards.

“We’re meeting with the pilot schools (this week) and we’ll get a second round of feedback. The first round was this is what we’d like you to try. This one will be more about the feedback.”

Cummins isn’t the only one interested in the results of the dashboards. The Ministry of Education has taken an interest in how they are being created.

Cummins doesn’t believe any other school division in the province has a method to monitor how students are faring academically like their dashboard technology.

Although it’s not the division’s responsibility to build products to be implemented across the province, Cummins is happy her most recent project is being viewed as a leader in Saskatchewan.

“I think it’s reaffirming that we’re on the right path. The Ministry wouldn’t be coming out to look at what we’re doing if they didn’t believe it had merit,” she said. “I think we have to celebrate the work we’ve done in this area and the opportunities that are provided for parents and students and staff and I think it will help us make longer term plans and put resources in correct places over time.

“The one thing with the Ministry is it can’t be us doing the work for the province, but it’s always intriguing if they’re interested in what we’re doing. I think it’s a feather in the cap of Chinook for the work that’s being done.”

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