Belen Schools to participate in Start Smart program to extend year

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Belen elementary school principals are busy recruiting kindergartners for a validation study set to begin in the fall.

Start Smart: New Mexico K-3 Plus Extended School Year-Validation Study will determine the impact of extended school on children's learning over time.

Which schools will participate in the study is dependant on if enough students can be recruited.

The Belen Board of Education voted unanimously to participate in the validation study earlier this month.

This validation study is a cost-effectiveness analysis of the extended school year for kindergarten through third-grade provided through the K-3 Plus Program.

"The purpose of K-3 Plus is to demonstrate that increased time in kindergarten and the early grades narrows the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and other students, increases cognitive skills and leads to higher test scores for all participants," the New Mexico Public Education Department website states.

House Bill 198 established a fund in 2007 allowing New Mexico districts to create a six-year pilot project extending the school year, the website states. The program was set to measure the affect of 25 additional instructional days on student's learning.

However, no data was collected to determine the program's effectiveness, said Scott D. Hughes, Start Smart coordinator.

This validation study will collect data to measure the impact of increased instructional time on literacy, numeric and social skills of students in the program, as well as costs and resources utilized by the schools to implement the program.

"We need to ensure that added days are, in fact, showing an effect on children's progress through time," Hughes said.

This evidence can then be used to support, expand or replicate the K-3 Plus Program and implement or tailor it throughout the country.

"The hope is that by doing this, students are going to receive special services and continued education and support to help prepare them to be able to move onto the next level," said Geneva Nixon, the district's curriculum director.

The study will follow a cohort of students and their teacher throughout all four grades, which will be randomly chosen to participate in the control and intervention groups.

Classroom instruction for the additional instructional days will follow Belen Schools curriculum, but focus on literacy, math, social skills, arts and physical education.

Additional time allows teachers to get through the curriculum, which they usually aren't able to do during the regular school year, and apply prevention techniques for those students who need it.

"We're always looking for ways to extend educational time, and this wouldn't cost the district any additional funding except for providing in kind support," Nixon said.

The study will pay for costs associated with additional school days, as well as professional development for teachers to collect data for the study.

Utah State University Center for Person with Disabilities received a five-year grant, called Investment in Innovation (I3), from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct the validation study.

They've partnered with the University of New Mexico's Center for Education Policy Research, which Hughes is an associate research professor at, to work on this project.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.