OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa school district has made changes to ensure all students are challenged in a way that matches their ability.
Course or grade acceleration has existed in the district for a number of years. Students have often gone to advanced-level classrooms for a subject in which they excel or, in less common circumstances, have skipped a full grade ahead of their classmates.
However, there has never been a district-wide standard by which students are selected for advancement or how much they advance. In the past, each school had a different policy regarding student advancement, and the process wasn’t very open.
“The reason we have a district-wide policy is so every building has a systematic process,” explained Breanna Hinmon, TAG facilitator for Liberty and Douma.
A more streamlined, district-wide policy has now been established. Now, a student’s teacher or parent may nominate the student by filing a District Acceleration Request Form (available on the school district’s website) with the student’s school’s TAG facilitator.
From there, the student will be assessed by a team of educators familiar with the student, during which their test scores and school work will be evaluated and the student’s instructors will be be asked to review the student’s ability.
After a period of approximately three weeks, the student’s acceleration will either be approved or disapproved. If disapproved, the student must wait a semester or one full term before they can be nominated again.
The new process is also far more open than it had been in the past. Not only are a nominated student’s parents now more closely involved, but the entire procedure is overseen by the student’s teacher, guidance counselor, TAG facilitator, curriculum and instructional leader, and the teacher who will receive the student for their accelerated lessons. All will be assessed and approved by the director of Student Supports.
Some concerns were raised at the board meeting as to whether policies like this could negatively impact a student’s emotional development. Board member Nancy Manson was especially concerned about students who, because of advancement, would need to go between buildings (elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school) and be in an environment for which they are unprepared.
However, as Hinmon pointed out at the meeting, a student’s level of maturity is one of many factors that would be considered during their assessment. Furthermore, it’s quite rare that a student be advanced an entire grade level. Instead, students more often remain among their peers and simply change classrooms for the subject in which they excel.
In the rare instances that a student would need to go between buildings, the district would take care of their transportation. This is a longstanding practice already.