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Voices: RtI in action

Elementary teacher Shelby Dennis explains what RtI is and how it’s playing out at Explore Elementary School in the Mapleton school district.

Response to Intervention (RtI) is taking hold across the country as a way to truly move our students to where they need to be in terms of proficiency and achievement.
The RtI process takes significant time and investment to truly determine what our students need as individual learners and how we are going to move them forward.

The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD, 2006) defines RtI as “an assessment and intervention process for systematically monitoring student progress and making decisions about the need for instruction modifications or increasingly intensified services using progress monitoring data.”

In reality, RtI is a fluid dance between assessment and progress monitoring. At the school site it is most successful when there is a collaborative approach and is more than just assessing how students are responding to intervention. RtI is truly, at the core, about responding to student needs with a multi-pronged approach from the entire school community. RtI is data mining and analyzing to figure out where students are, refining and revamping instructional practices to meet those varied needs, ensuring buy-in from all the stakeholders and continuously monitoring progress to make sure our students are getting to proficiency – step by step, day by day, and year by year.

RtI at Explore Elementary

When my elementary school, Explore Elementary in Mapleton Public Schools, opened seven years ago we quickly realized that we had an inverted pyramid. The traditional tiered pyramid has Tier 1 with 80 percent of students responding to first best instruction in the classroom. Then Tier 2, with 15 percent of students identified as at-risk who need specialized instruction and intervention. On top is Tier 3, with 5 percent of the students needing intensive intervention.

Our school opened with only 30 percent of our students reaching proficiency and the other 70 percent reading and writing below grade level. We had an inverted pyramid.

With strong administrative leadership, the staff collectively decided to allocate resources to support the needs of our students and tackle this daunting data. We needed incredibly effective classroom instruction, as all students deserve, and a coordinated system of intervention support.

After seven years, we have seen significant growth with our students. We have not completed our work by any means and have a long way to go, but we feel like we are on the correct track.  While there are numerous components to the RtI process, we believe there are four critical elements that lead to a successful program: data based decision-making, collaboration, collective buy-in and investment.

Data based decision-making

Data is at the core of our RtI program. Each fall, a data team convenes to analyze student data points from multiple assessments.  We determine which students fall below the 30th percentile and create groups based on their specific needs. This process is refined after we gather teacher input. Using this data we select a research based intervention program to correspond to these needs. This match is never perfect and always seems to be a moving target, but we do the best we can to find the ideal match.

Students in interventions are assessed and monitored on a weekly basis by our data team. We look at student data to determine if our interventions are working, what steps need to be taken to adjust our interventions when components are not working, and when students are ready to transition back to the classroom on a full-time basis.

We share data throughout the year, sending our progress monitoring charts to leadership, teachers and parents.

Collaboration is key

Collaboration is an essential element of our intervention work, as it encompasses all staff and students. These are not “my” kids; they are “our “kids. Everyone in the school takes ownership for every student. We work with classroom teachers to ensure that we calibrate our lessons, enabling students to reinforce their learning. Our intervention leadership team (ILT) consists of our special education teacher, speech therapist, school counselor, reading interventionist, and ELL teacher. We serve our students across categorizations and are in constant communication with classroom teachers.

Administrators take the lead by allocating appropriate resources for staffing, including additional interventionists. Leadership also creates a school-wide schedule that supports intervention work.

For example, our school leadership helps us build and maintain a common literacy block so students are receiving small group instruction in literacy with their classroom teacher first and then moving on to a targeted intervention group. There is also time allocated within the school week for the intervention leadership team to meet and analyze student data.

Collective buy-in

Collective buy-in is essential to a successful RtI program. At our school, it has taken time to really encourage focus and collaboration in this area.

In the beginning, classroom teachers were reticent to send their students out of the classroom for an hour every day. Over time, successes shown in student data and professional development staff have solidified the process for all involved. As in any reform effort, classroom teachers are critical to the success of the RtI process.

Student ownership of their learning is also a key factor. Students need to know where they are starting in terms of achievement and proficiency and where they need to be. Our students own their data and share their growth with the entire staff. They graph their own data in their composition books weekly in order to see if they are meeting goals. It is remarkable to see the pure joy on their faces as they achieve their goals and share their successes with their peers and the greater school community.

Time investment

The single greatest investment for RtI is without doubt – time. Students involved in the RtI process receive an additional hour of reading support daily – a significant portion of their school day and school year.  While some students respond quickly, we have found that others need years of support before they reach grade level.

School districts, individual schools and leaders must be willing to invest this focused time and effort in order to yield results and make a difference in students’ lives. In these difficult budgetary times, there also must be a strong desire to invest significant resources in staffing and to purchase research-based intervention programs over time.

Intervention work is far from easy, but in Mapleton Public Schools and here at Explore Elementary, we have found that it is incredibly necessary as we continue the work of moving our students toward proficiency and optimal learning. Interventions have and will allow us to continue to close the achievement gap and create lifelong opportunities for each individual student.

About our First Person series:

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