Schools AIMing High With New Academic Program

Photo by Jason Allentoff

  MANCHESTER – The transition from middle school to high school is hard for any student; new atmosphere, different classmates, and harder classes. In an effort to ease students into this academic shift, while promoting success, Manchester school officials have developed the AIM Program.

  AIM stands for Academic Intervention and Mastery. According to school administrators, Manchester schools are facing a complex problem: math and English performance among students from eighth to ninth grade is steadily decreasing. The AIM Program is meant to fix that.

  Administrators from Manchester Township High School and Middle School came together in November to present the AIM Program to the Board of Education, informing that this was the newest method “aimed” at increasing math and English passing rates and improving test scores for eighth and ninth graders.

  According to the district, the program “will target current eighth graders who are struggling in math and/or English. Students who fail these subjects in eighth grade will no longer automatically be accepted into ninth grade courses but will instead have to complete a summer school program or enroll in remedial courses in the ninth grade.”

  When Manchester school officials took a look at the pass/fail figures for eighth and ninth grade math and English students, they knew something had to be done. MTHS vice principal Tracey Raimondo said that the 2016-17 failure rate for Algebra 1 was 14 percent and the 2017-18 failure rate was 16 percent. In English 9, the 2016-17 failure rate was 13 percent and in 2017-18, it was 14 percent.

  “That’s a problem because freshman year sets you up for the rest of your high school career. If you get off track in freshman year that can really damage your chances of graduating on time,” said Raimondo.

  In response, the school set up a “multi-prong attack” to target the students who were unsuccessful in eighth grade and prevent students from getting off track before it’s too late.

  According to Raimondo, a majority of the students who failed math or English in eighth grade also failed in ninth grade. In addition, students who were chronically absent also had a high failure rate.

  MTHS Principal Dennis Adams added that officials identified attendance at school, low attendance in previous voluntary summer programs, test scores, learning gaps, and the need for interventions beyond basic skills as major areas for improvement. 

  One of the things officials talked about is using the Tiered System of Supports (the district’s framework for implementing academic and behavioral supports and interventions to improve achievement for all students), said Adams.

  This allows for the district to address not only academic factors, but also behavioral or social factors. For example, Adams noticed that students in basic skills algebra classes are not confident in math. In response, teachers need to strive to build confidence and a feeling of success in these students in order for them to thrive. 

  The AIM Program also cracks down on student performance by mandating that all students demonstrate proficiency in their eighth grade courses before being enrolled in ninth grade courses.

  While Manchester schools have had a summer program in place for students who failed math or English in eighth grade, this program was always voluntary. Now, students cannot be automatically enrolled in these courses unless they perform up to snuff in eighth grade.

  MTHS vice principal Sarah Thiffault said, “They can attend the summer AIM program (a remediation course) and then at the end will have to demonstrate proficiency and that they are ready for high school work. Being in the program is not enough, they have to actively be involved and demonstrate proficiency in math and/or English, depending on what their need is.”

  Should a student fail math or English in eighth grade, if they take and pass the summer program, then they can be enrolled in the ninth grade Algebra 1 and English 9 courses. Students who do not pass math and/or English and do not choose to attend the summer program will have to take a remedial course, Pre-Algebra and/or Foundations of English, in the ninth grade and must pass these courses before taking Algebra 1 and English 9.

  The AIM Program will be introduced to eighth graders immediately and remediation and support will be provided to students who are failing, according to the district. Parents should expect a letter to be sent home explaining the new requirements.

  “I think it sends a message that we want our students to learn and we’re going to support them, but they need to be prepared to get to the high school work because they’re going to be held accountable. So we just want to make sure those students have a good baseline to make sure they’re successful in school,” said Adams.